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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in exchanges, because that would increase executive influence, and so
might break the Constitution. And between them all, we are like the
boatman who, in the midst of rocks and currents and whirlpools, will not
pull one stroke for safety, lest he break his oar. Are we now looking
for the time when we can charter a United States Bank with a large
private subscription? When will that be? When confidence is restored.
Are we, then, to do nothing to save the vessel from sinking, till the
chances of the winds and waves have landed us on the shore? He is more
sanguine than I am, who thinks that the time will soon come when the
Whigs have more power to work effectually for the good of the country
than they now have. The voice of patriotism calls upon them not to
postpone, but to act at this moment, at the very next session; to make
the best of their means, and to try. You say that the administration is
responsible; why not, then, try the plan it has recommended. If it
fails, let the President bear the responsibility. If you will not try
this plan, why not propose something else?

Gentlemen, in speaking of events that have happened, I ought to say, and
will, since I am making a full and free communication, that there is no
one of my age, and I am no longer very young, who has written or spoken
more against the abuse and indiscreet use of the veto power than I have.
And there is no one whose opinions upon this subject are less changed. I
presume it is universally known, that I have advised against the use of
the veto power on every occasion when it has been used since I have been
in the Cabinet. But I am, nevertheless, not willing to join those who
seem more desirous to make out a case against the President, than of
serving their country to the extent of their ability, vetoes
notwithstanding. Indeed, at the close of the extra session, the received
doctrine of many seemed to be, that they would undertake nothing until
they could amend the Constitution so as to do away with this power. This
was mere mockery. If we were now reforming the Constitution, we might
wish for some, I do not say what, guards and restraints upon this power
more than the Constitution at present contains; but no convention would
recommend striking it out altogether. Have not the people of New York
lately amended their constitution, so as to require, in certain
legislative action, votes of two thirds? and is not this same
restriction in daily use in the national House of Representatives
itself, in the case of suspension of the rules? This constitutional
power, therefore, is no greater a restraint than this body imposes on
itself. But it is utterly hopeless to look for such an amendment; who
expects to live to see its day? And to give up all practical efforts,
and to go on with a general idea that the Constitution must be amended
before anything can be done, was, I will not say trifling, but treating
the great necessities of the people as of quite too little importance.
This Congress accomplished, in this regard, nothing for the people. The
exchequer plan which was submitted to it will accomplish some of the
objects of the people, and especially the Whig people. I am confident of
it; I know it. When a mechanic makes a tool, an axe, a saw, or a plane,
and knows that the temper is good and the parts are well proportioned,
he knows that it will answer its purpose. And I know that this plan will
answer its purpose.

There are other objects which ought not to be neglected, among which is
one of such importance that I will not now pass it by; I mean, the
mortifying state of the public credit of this country at this time. I
cannot help thinking, that if the statesmen of a former age were among
us, if Washington were here, if John Adams, and Hamilton, and Madison
were here, they would be deeply concerned and soberly thoughtful about
the present state of the public credit of the country. In the position I
fill, it becomes my duty to read, generally with pleasure, but sometimes
with pain, communications from our public agents abroad. It is
distressing to hear them speak of _their_ distress at what they see and
hear of the scorn and contumely with which the American character and
American credit are treated abroad. Why, at this very time, we have a
loan in the market, which, at the present rate of money and credit,
ought to command in Europe one hundred and twenty-five per cent. Can we
sell a dollar of it? And how is it with the credit of our own
Commonwealth? Does it not find itself affected in its credit by the
general state of the credit of the country? Is there nobody ready to
make a movement in this matter? Is there not a man in our councils large
enough, comprehensive enough in his views, to undertake at least to
_present_ this case before the American people, and thus do something to
restore the public character for morals and honesty?

There are in the country some men who are indiscreet enough to talk of
_repudiation_, - to advise their fellow-citizens to _repudiate_ public
debt. Does repudiation pay a debt? Does it discharge the debtor? Can it
so modify a debt that it shall not be always binding, in law as well as
in morals? No, Gentlemen; repudiation does nothing but add a sort of
disrepute to acknowledged inability. It is our duty, so far as is in our
power, to rouse the public feeling on the subject; to maintain and
assert the universal principles of law and justice, and the importance
of preserving public faith and credit. People say that the intelligent
capitalists of Europe ought to distinguish between the United States
government and the State governments. So they ought; but, Gentlemen,
what does all this amount to? Does not the general government comprise
the same people who make up the State governments? May not these
Europeans ask us how long it may be before the national councils will
repudiate public obligations?

The doctrine of repudiation has inflicted upon us a stain which we ought
to feel worse than a wound; and the time has come when every man ought
to address himself soberly and seriously to the correction of this great
existing evil. I do not undertake to say what the Constitution allows
Congress to do in the premises. I will only say, that if that great fund
of the public domain properly and in equity belongs, as is maintained,
to the States themselves, there are some means, by regular and
constitutional laws, to enable and induce the States to save their own
credit and the credit of the country.

Gentlemen, I have detained you much too long. I have wished to say,
that, in my judgment, there remain certain important objects to engage
our public and private attention, in the national affairs of the
country. These are, the settlement of the remaining questions between
ourselves and England; the great questions relating to the reciprocity
principle; those relating to colonial trade; the most absorbing
questions of the currency, and those relating to the great subject of
the restoration of the national character and the public faith; these
are all objects to which I am willing to devote myself, both in public
and in private life. I do not expect that much of public service remains
to be done by me; but I am ready, for the promotion of these objects, to
act with sober men of any party, and of all parties. I am ready to act
with men who are free from that great danger that surrounds all men of
all parties, - the danger that patriotism itself, warmed and heated in
party contests, will run into partisanship. I believe that, among the
sober men of this country, there is a growing desire for more moderation
of party feeling, more predominance of purely public considerations,
more honest and general union of well-meaning men of all sides to uphold
the institutions of the country and carry them forward.

In the pursuit of these objects, in public life or in a private station,
I am willing to perform the part assigned to me, and to give them, with
hearty good-will and zealous effort, all that may remain to me of
strength and life.

[Footnote 1: The office of Representative in Congress.]

[Footnote 2: Lord Ashburton.]

[Footnote 3: Mr. Edward Everett.]

[Footnote 4: Mr. Andrew Stevenson.]

[Footnote 5: Mr. Parmenter.]

[Footnote 6: Mr. R.C. Winthrop.]



[The great Pilgrim festival was celebrated on the 22d of December, 1843,
by the New England Society of New York, with uncommon spirit and
success. A commemorative oration was delivered in the morning by Hon.
Rufus Choate, in a style of eloquence rarely equalled. The public dinner
of the Society, at the Astor House, at which M.H. Grinnell, Esq.
presided, was attended by a very large company, composed of the members
of the Society and their invited guests. Several appropriate toasts
having been given and responded to by the distinguished individuals
present, George Griswold, Esq. rose to offer one in honor of Mr.
Webster. After a few remarks complimentary to that gentleman, in
reference to his services in refuting the doctrine of nullification and
in averting the danger of war by the treaty of Washington, Mr. Griswold
gave the following toast: -

"DANIEL WEBSTER, - the gift of New England to his country, his whole
country, and nothing but his country."

This was received with great applause, and on rising to respond to it
Mr. Webster was greeted with nine enthusiastic cheers, and the most
hearty and prolonged approbation. When silence was restored, he spoke as

MR. PRESIDENT: - I have a grateful duty to perform in acknowledging the
kindness of the sentiment thus expressed towards me. And yet I must say,
Gentlemen, that I rise upon this occasion under a consciousness that I
may probably disappoint highly raised, too highly raised expectations.
In the scenes of this evening, and in the scene of this day, my part is
an humble one. I can enter into no competition with the fresher geniuses
of those more eloquent gentlemen, learned and reverend, who have
addressed this Society. I may perform, however, the humbler, but
sometimes useful, duty of contrast, by adding the dark ground of the
picture, which shall serve to bring out the more brilliant colors.

I must receive, Gentlemen, the sentiment proposed by the worthy and
distinguished citizen of New York before me, as intended to convey the
idea that, as a citizen of New England, as a son, a child, a _creation_
of New England, I may be yet supposed to entertain, in some degree, that
enlarged view of my duty as a citizen of the United States and as a
public man, which may, in some small measure, commend me to the regard
of the whole country. While I am free to confess, Gentlemen, that there
is no compliment of which I am more desirous to be thought worthy, I
will add, that a compliment of that kind could have proceeded from no
source more agreeable to my own feelings than from the gentleman who has
proposed it, - an eminent merchant, the member of a body of eminent
merchants, known throughout the world for their intelligence and
enterprise. I the more especially feel this, Gentlemen, because, whether
I view the present state of things or recur to the history of the past,
I can in neither case be ignorant how much that profession, and its
distinguished members, from an early day of our history, have
contributed to make the country what it is, and the government what it

Gentlemen, the free nature of our institutions, and the popular form of
those governments which have come down to us from the Rock of Plymouth,
give scope to intelligence, to talent, enterprise, and public spirit,
from all classes making up the great body of the community. And the
country has received benefit in all its history and in all its
exigencies, of the most eminent and striking character, from persons of
the class to which my friend before me belongs. Who will ever forget
that the first name signed to our ever-memorable and ever-glorious
Declaration of Independence is the name of John Hancock, a merchant of
Boston? Who will ever forget that, in the most disastrous days of the
Revolution, when the treasury of the country was bankrupt, with unpaid
navies and starving armies, it was a merchant, - Robert Morris of
Philadelphia, - who, by a noble sacrifice of his own fortune, as well as
by the exercise of his great financial abilities, sustained and
supported the wise men of the country in council, and the brave men of
the country in the field of battle? Nor are there wanting more recent
instances. I have the pleasure to see near me, and near my friend who
proposed this sentiment, the son of an eminent merchant of New England
(Mr. Goodhue), an early member of the Senate of the United States,
always consulted, always respected, in whatever belonged to the duty and
the means of putting in operation the financial and commercial system of
the country; and this mention of the father of my friend brings to my
mind the memory of his great colleague, the early associate of Hamilton
and of Ames, trusted and beloved by Washington, consulted on all
occasions connected with the administration of the finances, the
establishment of the treasury department, the imposition of the first
rates of duty, and with every thing that belonged to the commercial
system of the United States, - George Cabot, of Massachusetts.

I will take this occasion to say, Gentlemen, that there is no truth
better developed and established in the history of the United States,
from the formation of the Constitution to the present time, than
this, - that the mercantile classes, the great commercial masses of the
country, whose affairs connect them strongly with every State in the
Union and with all the nations of the earth, whose business and
profession give a sort of nationality to their character, - that no class
of men among us, from the beginning, have shown a stronger and firmer
devotion to whatsoever has been designed, or to whatever has tended, to
preserve the union of these States and the stability of the free
government under which we live. The Constitution of the United States,
in regard to the various municipal regulations and local interests, has
left the States individual, disconnected, isolated. It has left them
their own codes of criminal law; it has left them their own system of
municipal regulations. But there was one great interest, one great
concern, which, from the very nature of the case, was no longer to be
left under the regulations of the then thirteen, afterwards twenty, and
now twenty-six States, but was committed, necessarily committed, to the
care, the protection, and the regulation of one government; and this was
that great unit, as it has been called, the commerce of the United
States. There is no commerce of New York, no commerce of Massachusetts,
none of Georgia, none of Alabama or Louisiana. All and singular, in the
aggregate and in all its parts, is the commerce of the United States,
regulated at home by a uniform system of laws under the authority of the
general government, and protected abroad under the flag of our
government, the glorious _E Pluribus Unum_, and guarded, if need be, by
the power of the general government all over the world. There is,
therefore, Gentlemen, nothing more cementing, nothing that makes us more
cohesive, nothing that more repels all tendencies to separation and
dismemberment, than this great, this common, I may say this overwhelming
interest of one commerce, one general system of trade and navigation,
one everywhere and with every nation of the globe. There is no flag of
any particular American State seen in the Pacific seas, or in the
Baltic, or in the Indian Ocean. Who knows, or who hears, there of your
proud State, or of my proud State? Who knows, or who hears, of any
thing, at the extremest north or south, or at the antipodes, - in the
remotest regions of the Eastern or Western Sea, - who ever hears, or
knows, of any thing but an American ship, or of any American enterprise
of a commercial character that does not bear the impression of the
American Union with it?

It would be a presumption of which I cannot be guilty, Gentlemen, for me
to imagine for a moment, that, among the gifts which New England has
made to our common country, I am any thing more than one of the most
inconsiderable. I readily bring to mind the great men, not only with
whom I have met, but those of the generation before me, who now sleep
with their fathers, distinguished in the Revolution, distinguished in
the formation of the Constitution and in the early administration of the
government, always and everywhere distinguished; and I shrink in just
and conscious humiliation before their established character and
established renown; and all that I venture to say, and all that I
venture to hope may be thought true, in the sentiment proposed, is,
that, so far as mind and purpose, so far as intention and will, are
concerned, I may be found among those who are capable of embracing the
whole country of which they are members in a proper, comprehensive, and
patriotic regard. We all know that the objects which are nearest are the
objects which are dearest; family affections, neighborhood affections,
social relations, these in truth are nearest and dearest to us all; but
whosoever shall be able rightly to adjust the graduation of his
affections, and to love his friends and his neighbors, and his country,
as he ought to love them, merits the commendation pronounced by the
philosophic poet upon him

"Qui didicit patriae quid debeat, et quid amicis."

Gentlemen, it has been my fortune, in the little part which I have acted
in public life, for good or for evil to the community, to be connected
entirely with that government which, within the limits of constitutional
power, exercises jurisdiction over all the States and all the people. My
friend at the end of the table on my left has spoken pleasantly to us
to-night of the reputed miracles of tutelar saints. In a sober sense, in
a sense of deep conviction, I say that the emergence of this country
from British domination, and its union under its present form of
government beneath the general Constitution of the country, if not a
miracle, is, I do not say the most, but one of the most fortunate, the
most admirable, the most auspicious occurrences, which have ever fallen
to the lot of man. Circumstances have wrought out for us a state of
things which, in other times and other regions, philosophy has dreamed
of, and theory has proposed, and speculation has suggested, but which
man has never been able to accomplish. I mean the government of a great
nation over a vastly extended portion of the surface of the earth, _by
means of local institutions for local purposes, and general institutions
for general purposes_. I know of nothing in the history of the world,
notwithstanding the great league of Grecian states, notwithstanding the
success of the Roman system, (and certainly there is no exception to the
remark in modern history,) - I know of nothing so suitable on the whole
for the great interests of a great people spread over a large portion of
the globe, as the provision of local legislation for local and municipal
purposes, with, not a confederacy, nor a loose binding together of
separate parts, but a limited, positive general government for positive
general purposes, over the whole. We may derive eminent proofs of this
truth from the past and the present. What see we to-day in the
agitations on the other side of the Atlantic? I speak of them, of
course, without expressing any opinion on questions of politics in a
foreign country; but I speak of them as an occurrence which shows the
great expediency, the utility, I may say the necessity, of local
legislation. If, in a country on the other side of the water (Ireland),
there be some who desire a severance of one part of the empire from
another, under a proposition of repeal, there are others who propose a
continuance of the existing relation under a federative system: and
what is this? No more, and no less, than an approximation to that system
under which we live, which for local, municipal purposes shall have a
local legislature, and for general purposes a general legislature.

This becomes the more important when we consider that the United States
stretch over so many degrees of latitude, - that they embrace such a
variety of climate, - that various conditions and relations of society
naturally call for different laws and regulations. Let me ask whether
the legislature of New York could wisely pass laws for the government of
Louisiana, or whether the legislature of Louisiana could wisely pass
laws for Pennsylvania or New York? Everybody will say, "No." And yet the
interests of New York and Pennsylvania and Louisiana, in whatever
concerns their relations between themselves and their general relations
with all the states of the world, are found to be perfectly well
provided for, and adjusted with perfect congruity, by committing these
general interests to one common government, the result of popular
general elections among them all.

I confess, Gentlemen, that having been, as I have said, in my humble
career in public life, employed in that portion of the public service
which is connected with the general government, I have contemplated, as
the great object of every proceeding, not only the particular benefit of
the moment, or the exigency of the occasion, but the preservation of
this system; for I do consider it so much the result of circumstances,
and that so much of it is due to fortunate concurrence, as well as to
the sagacity of the great men acting upon those occasions, - that it is
an experiment of such remarkable and renowned success, - that he is a
fool or a madman who would wish to try that experiment a second time. I
see to-day, and we all see, that the descendants of the Puritans who
landed upon the Rock of Plymouth; the followers of Raleigh, who settled
Virginia and North Carolina; he who lives where the truncheon of empire,
so to speak, was borne by Smith; the inhabitants of Georgia; he who
settled under the auspices of France at the mouth of the Mississippi;
the Swede on the Delaware, the Quaker of Pennsylvania, - all find, at
this day, their common interest, their common protection, their common
_glory_, under the united government, which leaves them all,
nevertheless, in the administration of their own municipal and local
affairs, to be Frenchmen, or Swedes, or Quakers, or whatever they
choose. And when one considers that this system of government, I will
not say has produced, because God and nature and circumstances have had
an agency in it, - but when it is considered that this system has not
prevented, but has rather encouraged, the growth of the people of this
country from three millions, on the glorious 4th of July, 1776, to
seventeen millions now, who is there that will say, upon this
hemisphere, - nay, who is there that will stand up in any hemisphere, who
is there in any part of the world, that will say that the great
experiment of a united republic has _failed_ in America? And yet I know,
Gentlemen, I feel, that this united system is held together by strong
tendencies to union, at the same time that it is kept from too much
leaning toward consolidation by a strong tendency in the several States
to support each its own power and consideration. In the physical world
it is said, that

"All nature's difference keeps all nature's peace,"

and there is in the political world this same harmonious difference,
this regular play of the positive and negative powers, (if I may so
say,) which, at least for one glorious half-century, has kept us as we
have been kept, and made us what we are.

But, Gentlemen, I must not allow myself to pursue this topic. It is a
sentiment so commonly repeated by me upon all public occasions, and upon
all private occasions, and everywhere, that I forbear to dwell upon it
now. It is the union of these States, it is the system of government
under which we live, beneath the Constitution of the United States,
happily framed, wisely adopted, successfully administered for fifty
years, - it is mainly this, I say, that gives us power at home and credit
abroad. And, for one, I never stop to consider the power or wealth or
greatness of a State. I tell you, Mr. Chairman, I care nothing for your
Empire State as such. Delaware and Rhode Island are as high in my regard
as New York. In population, in power, in the government over us, you

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 87 of 122)