David J. (David Josiah) Brewer.

Crowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) online

. (page 10 of 56)
Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 10 of 56)
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position to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of
public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which
nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common
and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to
make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and
restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble
the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-
founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one
part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.
It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds
a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels
of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country
are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in frcQ countries are useful
checks upon the administration of the government and serve to
keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is
probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriot-
ism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit
of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments
purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their
natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of
that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant
danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opin-
ion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it:


demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting mto a flame,
lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free
country should inspire caution in those intrusted with its admin-
istration, to confine themselves within their respective constitu-
tional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one
department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroach-
ment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one,
and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real des-
potism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to
abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to
satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of recip-
rocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and
distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each
the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others,
has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some
of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve
them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the
opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the con-
stitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected
by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates.
But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in
one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the cus-
tomary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The
precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil
any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political pros-
perity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain
would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor
to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest
props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician,
equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.
A volume could not trace all their connections with private and
public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for
property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obliga-
tion desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation
in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the suppo-
sition that morality can be maintained without religion. What-
ever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on
minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us


to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of relig-
ious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary
spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with
more or less force to every species of free government. Who
that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon at-
tempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions
for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the
structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is es-
sential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish
public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as spar-
ingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating
peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare
for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to re-
pel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by
shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time
of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may
have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the
burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these
maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that
public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the per-
formance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically
bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be
revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no
taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and
unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from
the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of
difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construc-
tion of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a
spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue,
which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate
peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this
conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin
it ? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant
period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and
too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted jus-
tice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time
and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any tem-


porary advantages wliich might be lost by a steady adherence
to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the perma-
nent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at
least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human
'lature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than
that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations,
and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and
that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all
should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another
a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a
slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of
which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its inter-
est. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more
readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of
umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or
trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions,
obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted
by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the govern-
ment, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The govern-
ment sometimes participates in the national propensity, and
adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times
it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of
hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and per-
nicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty,
of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another
produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation,
facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases
where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the
enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in
the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement
or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation
of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the
nation making the concessions ; by unnecessarily parting with what
ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will,
and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal
privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or
deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation),
facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country,
without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the



appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable
deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good,
the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatu-

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such at-
tachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and
independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford
to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduc-
tion, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public
councils ? Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a
great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite
of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you
to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought
to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that
foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican
government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial;
else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be
avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for
one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those
whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve
to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real
patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to
become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp
the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations
is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as
little political connection as possible. So far as we have already
formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith.
Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none,
or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in fre-
quent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to
our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to im-
plicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of
her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her
friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to
/)ursue a different course. If we remain one people under an
efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy



material injury from external annoyance; when we may take
such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time
resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent na-
tions, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will
not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may
choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why
quit our own to stand upon foreign ground ? Why, by inter-
weaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle
our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rival-
ship, interest, humor or caprice ?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with
any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now
at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of
patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim
no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty
is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those en-
gagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opin-
ion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establish-
ments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to
temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recom-
mended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our com-
mercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither
seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting
the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle
means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establish-
ing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable
course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the
government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse,
the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will per-
mit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time aban-
doned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate;
constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look
for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a
portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under
that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the
condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and
yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more.



There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon
real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experi-
ence must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old
and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the
strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control
the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from
running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of
nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be
productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that
they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party
spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard
against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be
a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which
they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been
guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public
records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you
and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own con-
science is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my pro-
clamation of the twenty-second of April, 1793, is the index of my
plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your
representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that
measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any at-
tempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights
I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all
the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was
bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having
taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to
maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this con^
duct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only
observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that
right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers,
has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, with-
out anything more, from the obligation which justice and human-
ity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to



maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will
best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With
me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to
our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and
to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and
consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the
command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I
am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensi-
ble of my defects not to think it probable that I may have com-
mitted many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech
the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may
tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will
never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-
five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright
zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to ob-
livion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actu-
ated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a
man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progeni-
tors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expecta-
tion that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without
alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my
fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free
government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy
reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.



|arl Schurz calls Webster's 'Reply to Hayne' "a glorious
speech which holds the first place among the monuments of
American oratory." However much or little the sectional
feeling whicli resulted in the American Civil War had to do with giving
the great arguments of Webster on the one side and of Calhoun on the
other their first reputation and vogue, the more considerate judgment of
the twentieth century is not likely to deny Webster the first place among
American orators of the nineteenth. If he was less logical than Cal-
houn and less "magnetic" than Clay, his intellect had a broader range
than belongs to either. In the United States Senate, at the bar of the
Supreme Court, before great audiences of the people assembled on his-
torical occasions ; on the platform in the lecture hall, or before a jury in
a murder case, he showed such power as no other orator of the nine-
teenth century in America or in Europe demonstrated over such a range
of subjects. That he died embittered, believing his political life a fail-
ure ; that he was never able to organize his admirers so as to make his
influence effective; that his leadership failed at a great crisis and left
the conservative spirit of the country without means of expressing itself
eflfectively, — these considerations do not impair at all his claim to the
first rank among the orators of his time. There may have been many
greater statesmen than he, but that, since Burke, there has been a
greater orator, no admirer of Webster admits. Burke alone surpasses
him in genius as he surpasses Burke in the power to make genius im-
mediately effective. Burke's power depended on a deep, sympathetic
earnestness, as that of Chatham did on devotion to right in the abstract.
With his own great strength increased by the strength of their qualities,
Webster might have become the greatest statesman, as well as the
greatest orator of the nineteenth century. As it was, he went from
compromise to compromise, where from the first successful com-
promise was impossible. That this was due to patriotism, to a
knowledge of the realities of the Constitution of the United States,
and to a mastering sense of the sacredness of a contract, every just
judge of his career must acknowledge. He did not believe the Con-
stitution "a rope of sand," as did some, or "a league with death and
a covenant with hell," as did others. To him it was an obligation so
sacred that he regarded with abhorrence those who declared that "a


After a Daguerreotype by Whipple, Engraved by Ritchie.

Iebster was called "Black Dan" because of the swarthiness of
complexion, which is suggested by the Whipple portrait. It is
said that when he replied, to Hayne, the entire North joined in
rejoicing at the discovery of a champion in "Black Dan Webster." ""


higher law» made it a duty to violate it. He thought that the spirit
of concession and compromise which made possible the formation of
the "more perfect union » of 1789 ought to prevail in all the relations
of the States and the peoples of the States to each other. He hated
slavery not less than did Washington and Jefferson, but he would
have trusted wholly to evolution, to education, and to moral force to
eradicate it. If ^^ union with slaveholders *^ had in it such an element
of shame as it seemed to Garrison, Phillips, and Parker to have, to
him, nevertheless, that union seemed to command the awful respect
due to a parent, and its shame itself to compel — not exposure, but the
awe which inspired the Sons of Noah to walk backward with averted
face to cast their mantle over their parent's nakedness. It was not be-
cause of his weakness, but of his most admirable trait that Webster
died heartbroken and deserted by his generation. To the last he had
the same abundant charity for the utmost weaknesses of the people
of South Carolina and Louisiana that Washington had for those of
Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Like Clay, who had much of
this great strength of affection for all his countrymen, he had weak-
nesses which made him inefEective at the great crisis of his career,
but these weaknesses are in no sense responsible for his view of the
Constitution as a series of compromises on which *< the more perfect
union '^ depended. Against nullifiers, abolitionists, and secessionists,
he opposed a sense of rectitude which had its origin in a deep-
seated consciousness of human fallibility. He felt his own weakness
too much, he was too well aware of the weaknesses of others to be
willing to drive any one to the wall, no matter how great his ad-
vantage of superior knowledge or superior virtue. To him <* liberty
and union, now and forever, one and inseparable,'^ meant a permanent
policy of continual patience under the wrongs which men inflict on
each other through « unenlightened selfishness. '^ That it was possi-
ble through the use of force to compel his opponents to become
^'everlastingly right'* would have seemed to him absurd, and had he
lived with the power to do so, he would have gone on fighting first
and compromising afterwards — compromising more readily when he
had the advantage than when he had lost it — and this to the end
of the chapter. He was a "compromiser'' because he was one of the
greatest constitutional lawyers, one of the most benevolent men, one
of the most patriotic Americans of his generation.

Though he had none of the organizing power of a great political
leader, the testimony of his contemporaries shows that his power
over those who heard him and sympathized with his thought suffi-
ciently to cease conscious resistance to it, was too great to be ade-
quately described. "Three or four times," writes Professor Ticknor,
rtfter listening to one of his speeches, "I thought my temples would


burst with a gush of blood; for after all you must know that I am
aware that it is no compacted or connected whole, but a collection
of wonderful fragments of burning eloquence to which his manner
gave tenfold force. When I came out I was almost afraid to come
near him. It seemed to me that he was like the mount that might

Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 10 of 56)