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

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not be touched and that burned with fire.**

Born at Salisbury, New Hampshire, January i8th, 1782, Webster
was educated at Dartmouth College, from which he graduated in
1 80 1. He was admitted to the bar in Boston in 1805, but he returned
to New Hampshire and served two terms as a Federalist Member of
Congress (18 13-17) before finally settling in Massachusetts. Begin-
ning to practice law in Boston in 18 16, he engaged two years later
in the celebrated Dartmouth College case which made him his first
great reputation as a lawyer. From 1823 to 1827 he represented
a Massachusetts district in the Lower House of Congress, and from
1827 to 1 841 he was United States Senator from Massachusetts. His
speeches of 1830 in reply to Hayne and his later speeches in reply to
Calhoun made him the acknowledged leader of the Northern Whigs.
After serving as Secretary of State in Tyler's Cabinet (1841-43), he
returned to the Senate in 1845 and served until 1850, when he again
entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State under Fillmore. He died
October 24th, 1852, at Marshfield, Massachusetts. From 1836 until 1852
he had been a candidate for the Presidency. His speech in favor of
the Compromise of 1850 alienated his Northern admirers, and the sec-
tional issue was already forced too far to allow the Southern Whigs
to unite upon him. He was bitterly attacked by former friends in
New England, and it was believed with good reason that his suffer-
ing under such attacks hastened, if it did not cause, his death.

W. V. B.


(Delivered in the United States Senate, in Reply to Hayne on the Foot

Resolution, January 26th, 1S30)

Mr. Preside?it: —

WHEN the mariner has been tossed for many days, in thick
weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails him-
self of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of
the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements
have driven him from his true course. Let us imitate this pru-
dence, and, before we float further on the waves of this debate,
refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least


be able to conjecture where we now are. I ask for the reading
of the resolution.

The Secretary read the resolution, as follows: —

*■'• Resolved, That the Committee on Public Lands be instructed to
inquire and report the quantity of public lands remaining unsold
within each State and Territory, and whether it be expedient to limit,
for a certain period, the sales of the public lands to such lands only
as have heretofore been offered for sale, and are now subject to en-
try at the minimum price. And, also, whether the office of Surveyor
General, and some of the land offices, may not be abolished without
detriment to the public interest; or whether it be expedient to adopt
measures to hasten the sales and extend more rapidly the surveys of
the public lands.**

We have thus heard, sir, what the resolution is, which is ac-
tually before us for consideration; and it will readily occur to
every one that it is almost the only subject about which some-
thing has not been said in the speech, running through two days
by which the Senate has been now entertained by the gentleman
from South Carolina. Every topic in the wide range of our pub-
lic affairs, whether past or present — everything, general or loca?.
whether belonging to national politics, or party politics, seems to
have attracted more or less of the honorable Member's attention^
save only the resolution before the Senate. He has spoken of
everything but the public lands. They have escaped his notice.
To that subject, in all his excursions, he has not paid even the
cold respect of a passing glance, y /vpf^f^ V-

When this debate, sir, was to be resumed on Thursday morn-
ing, it so happened that it would have been convenient for me
to be elsewhere. The honorable Member, however, did not in-
cline to put off the discussion to another day. He had a shot,
he said, to return, and he wished to discharge it. That shot,
sir, which it was kind thus to inform us was coming, that we
might stand out of the way, or prepare ourselves to fall before
it, and die with decency, has now been received. Under all ad-
vantages, and with expectation awakened by the tone which pre.
ceded it, it has been discharged, and has spent its force. It may
become me to say no more of its effect than that if nobody is
found, after all, either killed or wounded by it, it is not the first
time, in the history of human affairs, that the vigor and success
of the war have not quite come up to the lofty and sounding

phrase of the manifesto.
10 — 8


The gentleman, sir, in declining to postpone the debate, told
the Senate, with the emphasis of his hand upon his heart, that
there was something rankling here, which he wished to relieve.

[Mr. Hayne rose, and disclaimed having used the word « rankling.*]

It would not, Mr. President, be safe for the honorable Member
to appeal to those around him upon the question whether he did,
in fact, make use of that word. But he may have been uncon-
scious of it. At any rate, it is enough that he disclaims it.
But still, with or without the use of that particular word, he had
yet something here, he said, of which he wished to rid himself
by an immediate reply. In this respect, sir, I have a great ad-
vantage over the honorable gentleman. There is nothing here,
sir, which gives me the slightest uneasiness; neither fear, nor
anger, nor that which is sometimes more troublesome than either,
— the consciousness of having been in the wrong. There is
nothing, either originating here, or now received here by the
gentleman's shot. Nothing original, for I had not the slightest
feeling of disrespect or unkindness towards the honorable Mem-
ber. Some passages, it is true, had occurred since our acquaint-
ance in this body, which I could have wished might have been
otherwise; but I had used philosophy and forgotten them. When
the honorable Member rose, in his first speech, I paid him the
respect of attentive listening; and when he sat down, though
surprised, and, I must say, even astonished, at some of his opin-
ions, nothing was further from my intention than to commence
any personal warfare: and through the whole of the few remarks
I made in answer, I avoided, studiously and carefully, everything
which I thought possible to be construed into disrespect. And,
sir, while there is thus nothing originating here, which I wished
at any time, or now wish to discharge, I must repeat, also, that
nothing has been received here which rankles, or in any way
gives me annoyance. I will not accuse the honorable Member of
violating the rules of civilized war, — I will not say that he poi-
soned his arrows. But whether his shafts were, or were not,
dipped in that which would have caused rankling, if they had
reached, there was not, as it happened, quite strength enough in
the bow to bring them to their mark. If he wishes now to
gather up those shafts, he must look for them elsewhere; they
will not be found fixed and quivering in the object at which
they were aimed.



The honorable Member complained that I had slept on his
speech. I must have slept on it, or not slept at all. The mo-
ment the honorable Member sat down, his friend from Missouri
rose, and, with much honeyed commendation of the speech, sug-
gested that the impressions which it had produced were too
charming and delightful to be disturbed by other sentiments or
other sounds, and proposed that the Senate should adjourn.
Would it have been quite amiable in me, sir, to interrupt this
excellent good feeling ? Must I not have been absolutely ma-
licious, if I could have thrust myself forward to destroy sensa-
tions thus pleasing ? Was it not much better and kinder, both to
sleep upon them myself and to allow others also the pleasure of
sleeping upon them ? But if it be meant, by sleeping upon his
speech, that I took time to prepare a reply to it, it is quite a_
mistake; owing to other engagements I could not employ even
the interval between the adjournment of the Senate and its meet-
ing the next morning, in attention to the subject of this debate.
Nevertheless, sir, the mere matter of fact is undoubtedly true, —
I did sleep on the gentleman's speech; and slept soundly. And
I slept equally well on his speech of yesterday, to which I am
now replying. It is quite possible that in this respect, also, I
possess some advantage over the honorable Member, attributable,
doubtless, to a cooler temperament on my part; for, in truth, I
slept upon his speeches remarkably well. But the gentleman in-
quires why he was made the object of such a reply ? Why was
he singled out ? If an attack has been made on the East, he, he
assures us, did not begin it, — it was the gentleman from Mis-
souri. Sir, I answered the gentleman's speech because I hap-_
pened to hear it: and because, also, I chose to give an answer
to that speech which, if unanswered, I thought most likely to
produce injurious impressions. I did not stop to inquire who
was the original drawer of the bill. I found a responsible in-
dorser before me, and it was my purpose to hold him liable, and
to bring him to his just responsibility without delay. But, sir,
this interrogatory of the honorable Member was only introductory
to another. He proceeded to ask me whether I had turned upon
him, in this debate, from the consciousness that I should find an
overmatch if I ventured on a contest with his friend from Mis-
souri. If, sir, the honorable Member, ex gratia modesties, had
chosen thus to defer to his friend and to pay him a compliment,
without intentional disparagement to others, it would have been



quite according to the friendly courtesies of debate, and not at
all ungrateful to my own feelings. I am not one of those, sir,
who esteem any tribute of regard, whether light and occasional,
or more serious and deliberate, which may be bestowed on others,
as so much unjustly withholden from themselves. But the tone
and manner of the gentleman's question forbid me that I thus
interpret it. I am not at liberty to consider it as nothing more
than a civility to his friend. It had an air of taunt and dispar-
agement, something of the loftiness of asserted superiority, which
does not allow me to pass over it without notice. It was put as
a question for me to answer, and so put as if it were difficult for
me to answer: Whether I deemed the Member from Missouri an
overmatch for myself in debate here. It seems to me, sir, that
this is extraordinary language, and an extraordinary tone, for the
discussions of this body.

Matches and overmatches! Those terms are more applicable
elsewhere than here, and fitter for other assemblies than this.
Sir, the gentleman seems to forget where and what we are.
This is a Senate; a Senate of equals: of men of individual honor
and personal character, and of absolute independence. We know
no masters; we acknowledge no dictators. This is a hall for
mutual consultation and discussion; not an arena for the exhibi-
tion of champions. I offer myself, sir, as a match for no man;
I throw the challenge of debate at no man's feet. But then, sir,
since the honorable Member has put the question in a manner
that calls for an answer, I will give him an answer; and I tell
him that, holding myself to be the humblest of the Members
here, I yet know nothing in the arm of his friend from Missouri,
either alone, or when aided by the arm of his friend from South
Carolina, that need deter even me from espousing whatever opin-
ions I may choose to espouse, from debating whatever I may
choose to debate, or from speaking whatever I may see fit to
say on the floor of the Senate. Sir, when uttered as matter
of commendation or compliment, I should dissent from nothing
which the honorable Member might say of his friend. Still less
do I put forth any pretensions of my own. But, when put to
me as a matter of taunt, I throw it back, and say to the gentle-
man that he could possibly say nothing less likely than such a
comparison to wound my pride of personal character. The anger
of its tone rescued the remark from intentional irony, which other-
wise probably would have been its general acceptation. But, sir,


if it be imagined that by this mutual quotation and commenda-
tion; if it be supposed that, by casting the characters of the
drama, assigning to each his part; to one the attack, t'J another
the cry of onset; or if it be thought that by a loud and empty
vaunt of anticipated victory any laurels are to be won here; if it
be imagined, especially, that any or all these things will shake
any purpose of mine, I can tell the honorable Member, once for
all, that he is greatly mistaken, and that he is dealing with one
of whose temper and character he has yet much to learn. Sir,
I shall not allow myself on this occasion, I hope on no occasion,
to be betrayed into any loss of temper; but if provoked, as I
trust I never shall be, into crimination and recrimination, the
honorable Member may perhaps find that, in that contest, there
will be blows to take as well as blows to give; that others can
state comparisons as significant, at least, as his own; and that
his impunity may possibly demand of him whatever powers of
taunt and sarcasm he may possess. I commend him to a prudent
husbandry of his resources.

But, sir, the coalition! The coalition! Aye, ^Hhe murdered
coalition ^^ ! The gentleman asks if I were led or frightened into
this debate by the spectre of the coalition, — ^^Was it the ghost
of the murdered coalition, ^^ he exclaims, ^* which haunted the
Member from Massachusetts, and which, like the ghost of Ban-
quo, would never down ^^ ? *^ The murdered coalition ! * Sir, this
charge of a coalition, in reference to the late administration, is
not original with the honorable Mem.ber. It did not spring up
in the Senate. Whether as a fact, as an argument, or as an em-
bellishment, it is all borrowed. He adopts it, indeed, from a
very low origin and a still lower present condition. It is one of
the thousand calumnies with which the press teemed during an
excited political canvass. It was a charge of which there was
not only no proof or probability, but which was, in itself, wholly
impossible to be true. No man of common information ever be-
lieved a syllable of it. Yet it was of that class of falsehoods,
which, by continued repetition, through all the organs of detrac-
tion and abuse, are capable of misleading those who are already
far misled, and of further fanning passion, already kindling into
flame. Doubtless it served in its day, and in greater or less de-
gree the end designed by it. Having done that, it has sunk into
the general mass of stale and loathed calumnies. It is the very
cast-off slough of a polluted and shameless press. Incapable of



further mischief, it lies in the sewer, lifeless and despised. It is
not now, sir, in the power of the honorable Member to give it
dignity or decency by attempting to elevate it, and to introduce
it into the Senate. He cannot change it from what it is, an ob-
ject of general disgust and scorn. On the contrary, the contact,
if he choose to touch it, is more likely to drag him down, down,
to the place where it lies itself.

But, sir, the honorable Member was not, for other reasons,
entirely happy in his allusion to the story of Banquo's murder
and Banquo's ghost. It was not, I think, the friends, but the
enemies of the murdered Banquo, at whose bidding his spirit
would not down. The honorable gentleman is fresh in his read-
ing of the English classics, and can put me right if I am wrong;
but, according to my poor recollection, it was at those who had
begfun with caresses, and ended with foul and treacherous mur-
der, that the gory locks were shaken! The ghost of Banquo, like
that of Hamlet, was an honest ghost. It disturbed no innocent
man. It knew where its appearance would strike terror, and
who would cry out, A ghost! It made itself visible in the right
quarter, and compelled the guilty and the conscience-smitten, and
none others, to start with —

"Pr'ythee, see there! behold! — look! lo!*
If I stand here, I saw him!"

Their eyeballs were seared (was it not so, sir?) who had thought
to shield themselves by concealing their own hand and laying
the imputation of the crime on a low and hireling agency in
wickedness; who had vainly attempted to stifle the workings of
their own coward consciences by ejaculating, through white lips
and chattering teeth : " Thou canst not say I did it ! * I have
misread the great poet if those who had in no way partaken in
the deed of the death either found that they were, or feared that
they should be, pushed from their stools by the ghost of the
slain, or exclaimed to a spectre created by their own fears and
their own remorse : ^^ Avaunt ! and quit our sight ! *^

There is another particular, sir, in which the honorable Mem-
ber's quick perception of resemblances might, I should think,
have seen something in the story of Banquo, making it not alto-
gether a subject of the most pleasant contemplation. Those who

* Mr. Webster quoted from memory. See Macbeth, Scene 4, Act 4.



murdered Banquo, what did they win by it ? Substantial good ?
Permanent power ? Or disappointment, rather, and sore mortifi-
cation; — dust and ashes, — the common fate of vaulting ambition,
overleaping itself ? Did not even-handed justice ere long com-
mend the poisoned chalice to their own lips ? Did they not soon
find that for another they had « filed their mind >> ? that their
ambition, though apparently for the moment successful, had but
put a barren sceptre in their grasp ? Aye, sir, —

"A barren sceptre in their gripe,
Thence to be wrenched by an unlineal hand,
No son of theirs succeeding.*

Sir, I need pursue the allusion no further. I leave the hon-
orable gentleman to run it out at his leisure, and to derive from
it all the gratification it is calculated to administer. If he find
himself pleased with the associations and prepared to be quite
satisfied, though the parallel should be entirely completed, I had
almost said, I am satisfied also, — but that I shall think of. Yes,
sir, I will think of that.

In the course of my observations the other day, Mr. Presi-
dent, I paid a passing tribute of respect to a very worthy man,
Mr. Dane, of Massachusetts. It so happened that he drew the
Ordinance of 1787 for the government of the Northwestern Terri-
tory. A man of so much ability and so little pretense; of so
great a capacity to do good and so unmixed a disposition to do
it for its own sake; a gentleman who had acted an important
part forty years ago, in a measure the influence of which is still
deeply felt in the very matter which was the subject of debate,
might, I thought, receive from me a commendatory recognition.

But the honorable Member was inclined to be facetious on
the subject. He was rather disposed to make it matter of ridi-
cule that I had introduced into the debate the name of one \ t
Nathan Dane, of whom he assures us he had never before heard. '^^ \^
Sir, if the honorable Member had never before heard of Mr. .j>f
Dane, I am sorry for it. It shows him less acquainted with the
public men of the country than I had supposed. Let me tell
him, however, that a sneer from him at the mention of the name
of Mr. Dane is in bad taste. It may well be a high mark of
ambition, sir, either with the honorable gentleman or myself, to
accomplish as much to make our names known to advantage, and
remembered with gratitude, as Mr. Dane has accomplished. But



the truth is, sir, I suspect that Mr. Dane lives a little too far
north. He is of Massachusetts, and too near the north star to
be reached by the honorable gentleman's telescope. If his sphere
had happened to range south of Mason and Dixon's Line, he
might, probably, have come within the scope of his vision!

I spoke, sir, of the Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery
in all future times, northwest of the Ohio, as a measure of great
wisdom and foresight; and one which had been attended with
highly beneficial and permanent consequences. I supposed that
on this point no two gentlemen in the Senate could entertain
different opinions. But the simple expression of this sentiment
has led the gentleman, not only into a labored defense of slavery,
in the abstract, and on principle, but, also, into a warm accusa-
tion against me, as having attacked the system of domestic slavery
now existing in the Southern States. For all this there was not
the slightest foundation in anything said or intimated by me.
I did not utter a single word which any ingenuity could torture
into an attack on the slavery of the South. I said only that it
was highly wise and useful in legislating for the northwestern
country, while it was yet a wilderness, to prohibit the introduc-
tion of slaves; and added that I presumed, in the neighboring
State of Kentucky, there was no reflecting and intelligent gentle-
man who would doubt that if the same prohibition had been
extended at the same early period over that Commonwealth, her
strength and population would, at this day, have been far greater
than they are. If these opinions be thought doubtful, they are,
nevertheless, I trust, neither extraordinary nor disrespectful. They
attack nobody and menace nobody. And yet, sir, the gentle-
man's optics have discovered, even in the mere expression of
this sentiment, what he calls the very spirit of the Missouri ques-
tion! He represents me as making an onset on the whole South,
and manifesting a spirit which would interfere with and disturb
their domestic condition! Sir, this injustice no otherwise sur-
prises me than as it is committed here, and committed without
the slightest pretense of ground for it. I say it only surprises
me as being done here; for I know full well that it is, and has
been, the settled policy of some persons in the South, for years,
to represent the people of the North as disposed to interfere
with them in their own exclusive and peculiar concerns. This is
a delicate and sensitive point in Southern feeling: and of late
years it has always been touched, and generally with effect, when-


ever the object has been to unite the whole South against North-
ern men or Northern measures. This feeling, always carefully
kept alive, and maintained at too intense a heat to admit dis-
crimination or reflection, is a lever of great power in our political
machine. It moves vast bodies, and gives to them one and the
same direction. But it is without all adequate cause; and the
suspicion which exists wholly groundless. There is not, and
never has been, a disposition in the North to interfere with these
interests of the South. Such interference has never been sup-
posed to be within the power of government; nor has it been in
any way attempted. The slavery of the South has always been
regarded as a matter of domestic policy, left with the States
themselves, and with which the Federal Government had nothing
to do. Certainly, sir, I am, and ever have been of that opinion.
The gentleman, indeed, argues that slavery in the abstract is no
evil. Most assuredly I need not say I differ with him, altogether
and most widely, on that point. I regard domestic slavery as
one of the greatest of evils, both moral and political. But though
it be a malady, and whether it be curable, and if so, by what
means; or, on the other hand, whether it be the vulniis iimne-
dicabile of the social system, I leave it to those whose right
and duty it is to inquire and to decide. And this I believe, sir,
is, and uniformly has been, the sentiment of the North. Let us
look a little at the history of this matter.

When the present Constitution was submitted for the ratifica-
tion of the people, there were those who imagined that the pow-
ers or the Government which it proposed to establish, might,
perhaps, in some possible mode, be exerted in measures tending
to the abolition of slavery. This suggestion would, of course,
attract much attention in the Southern conventions. In that of
Virginia, Governor Randolph said : —

<<I hope there is none here, who, considering the subject in the
calm light of philosophy, will make an objection dishonorable to
Virginia — that at the moment they are securing the rights of their
citizens, an objection is started that there is a spark of hope that

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 11 of 56)