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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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those unfortunate men now held in bondage, may, by the operation
of the General Government, be made free.^^

At the very first Congress, petitions on the subject were pre-
sented, if I mistake not, from different States. The Pennsylvania
society for promoting the abolition of slavery took the lead, and



122



DANIEL WEBSTER



laid before Congress a memorial, praying Congress to promote
the abolition by such powers as it possessed. This memorial
was referred, in the House of Representatives, to a select com-
mittee, consisting of Mr. Foster of New Hampshire, Mr. Gerry
of Massachusetts, Mr. Huntington of Connecticut, Mr. Lawrence
of New York, Mr. Sinnickson of New Jersey, Mr. Hartley of
Pennsylvania, and Mr. Parker of Virginia, — all of them, sir, as
you will observe, Northern men, but the last. This committee
made a report, which was committed to a committee of the whole
house, and there considered and discussed on several days; and
being amended, although without material alteration, it was made
to express three distinct propositions, on the subject of slavery
and the slave trade. First, in the words of the Constitution,
that Congress could not, prior to the year 1808, prohibit the
migration or importation of such persons as any of the States
then existing should think proper to admit. Second, that Con-
gress had authority to restrain the citizens of the United States
from carrying on the African slave trade, for the purpose of sup-
plying foreign countries. On this proposition, our early laws
against those who engage in that traffic are founded. The third
proposition, and that which bears on the present question, was
expressed in the following terms: —

'■^Resolved, That Congress have no authority to interfere in the
emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them in any of the
States; it remaining with the several States alone to provide rules
and regulations therein, which humanjty and true policy may require.*

This resolution received the sanction of the House of Repre-
sentatives so early as March 1790. And now, sir, the honorable
Member will allow me to remind him that not only were the
select committee who reported the resolution, with a single ex-
ception, all Northern men, but also that of the Members then
composing the House of Representatives, a large majority, I be-
lieve nearly two-thirds, were Northern men also.

The House agreed to insert these resolutions in its journal;
and from that day to this, it has never been maintained or con-
tended that Congress had any authority to regulate or interfere
with the condition of slaves in the several States. No Northern
gentleman, to my knowledge, has moved any such question in
either house of Congress.



DANIEL WEBSTER



123



The fears of the South, whatever fears they might have enter^^.
tained, were allayed and quieted by this early decision; and so
remained, till they were excited afresh, without cause, but fof
collateral and indirect purposes. When it became necessary, or
was thought so, by some political persons, to find an unvarying
ground for the exclusion of Northern men from confidence and
from the lead in the affairs of the Republic, then, and not till then,
the cry was raised, and the feeling industriously excited, that the
influence of Northern men in the public councils would endanger
the relation of master and slave. For myself, I claim no other
merit than that this gross and enormous injustice towards the
whole North has not wrought upon me to change my opinions
or my political conduct. I hope I am above violating my prin-
ciples, even under the smart of injury and false imputations.
Unjust suspicions and undeserved reproach, whatever pain I may
experience from them, will not induce me, I trust, nevertheless,
to overstep the limits of constitutional duty, or to encroach on the
rights of others. The domestic slavery of the South I leave where
I find it — in the hands of their own governments. It is their
affair, not mine. Nor do I complain of the peculiar effect which
the magnitude of that population has had in the distribution of
power under this Federal Government. We know, sir, that the
representation of the States in the other house is not equal.
We know that great advantage in that respect is enjoyed by the
slaveholding States; and we know, too, that the intended equiv-
alent for that advantage, that is to say, the imposition of direct
taxes in the same ratio, has become merely nominal; the habit
of the Government being almost invariably to collect its revenue
from other sources and in other modes. Nevertheless, I do not
complain: nor would I countenance any movement to alter this
arrangement of representation. It is the original bargain, the
compact — let it stand; let the advantage of it be fully enjoyed.
The Union itself is too full of benefit to be hazarded in proposi-
tions for changing its original basis. I go for the Constitution as
it is, and for the Union as it is. But I am resolved not to sub-
mit in silence to accusations, either against myself, individually,
or against the North, wholly unfounded and unjust; accusations
which impute to us a disposition to evade the constitutional com*
pact, and to extend the power of the Government over the
internal laws and domestic condition of the States. All such ac
cusations, wherever and whenever made, all insinuations of the



124 DANIEL WEBSTER

existence of any such purposes, I know and feel to be ground-
less and injurious. And we must confide in Southern gentlemen
themselves; we must trust to those whose integrity of heart and
magnanimity of feeling will lead them to a desire to maintain
and disseminate truth, and who possess the means of its diffusion
with the Southern public; we must leave it to them to disabuse
that public of its prejudices. But, in the meantime, for my own
part, I shall continue to act justly, whether those towards whom
justice is exercised receive it with candor or with contumely.

Having had occasion to recur to the Ordinance of 1787, in
order to defend myself against the inferences which the honor-
able Member has chosen to draw from my former observations
on that subject, I am not willing now entirely to take leave of it
without* another remark. It need hardly be said that that paper
expresses just sentiments on the great subject of civil and re-
ligious liberty. Such sentiments were common, and abound in
all our State papers of that day. But this ordinance did that
which was not so common, and which is not, even now, univer-
sal; that is, it set forth and declared, as a high and binding duty
of government itself, to encourage schools, and advanced the
means of education, on the plain reason that religion, morality,
and knowledge, are necessary to good government and to the
happiness of mankind. One observation further. The important
provision incorporated into the Constitution of the United States
and several of those of the States, and recently, as we have seen,
adopted into the reformed constitution of Virginia, restraining
legislative power in questions of private right, and from impair-
ing the obligation of contracts, is first introduced and established,
as far as I am informed, as matter of express written constitu-
tional law, in this Ordinance of 1787. And I must add, also, in
regard to the author of the ordinance, who has not had the hap-
piness to attract the gentleman's notice, heretofore, nor to avoid
his sarcasm now, that he was chairman of that select committee
of the old Congress, whose report first expressed the strong sense
of that body, that the old confederation was not adequate to the
exigencies of the country, and recommending to the States to
send delegates to the convention which formed the present Con-
stitution.

An attempt has been made to transfer from the North to the
South the honor of this exclusion of slavery from the North-
western Territory. The journal, without argument or comment,



DANIEL WEBSTER 1 25

refutes such attempt. The cession by Virginia was made March
1784. On the nineteenth of April following, a committee, consist-
ing of Messrs. Jefferson, Chase, and Howell, reported a plan for a
temporary government of the Territory, in which was this article :
<* That, after the year 1800, there shall be neither slavery, nor in-
voluntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in
punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been con-
victed.^* Mr. Spaight, of North Carolina, moved to strike out this
paragraph. The question was put according to the form then
practiced: <^ Shall these words stand as part of the plan,'* etc.
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New
York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — seven States, voted in the
affirmative. Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolinia in the neg-
ative. North Carolina was divided. As the consent of nine
States was necessary, the words could not stand, and were struck
out accordingly. Mr. Jefferson voted for the clause, but was over-
ruled by his colleagues.

In March of the next year (1785), Mr. King, of Massachusetts,
seconded by Mr. EUery, of Rhode Island, proposed the formerly
rejected article, with this addition: ^^And that this regulation
shall be an article of compact, and remain a fundamental prin-
ciple of the constitutions between the thirteen original States,
and each of the States described in the resolve,** etc. On this
clause, which provided the adequate and thorough security, the
eight Northern States of that time voted affirmatively, and the
four Southern States negatively. The votes of nine States were
not yet obtained, and thus the provision was again rejected by
the Southern States. The perseverance of the North held out,
and two years afterwards the object was attained. It is no dero-
gation from the credit, whatever that may be, of drawing the
ordinance, that its principles had before been prepared and dis-
cussed in the form of resolutions. If one should reason in that
way, what would become of the distinguished honor of the author
of the Declaration of Independence? There is not a sentiment
in that paper which had not been voted and resolved in the as-
semblies and other popular bodies in the country over and over
again.

But the honorable Member has now found out that this gen-
tleman [Mr. Dane] was a member of the Hartford Convention.
However uninformed the honorable Member may be of charac-
ters and occurrences at the North, it would seem that he has



126 DANIEL WEBSTER

at his elbow on this occasion some high-minded and lofty spirit,
some magnanimous and true-hearted monitor, possessing the
means of local knowledge, and ready to supply the honorable Mem-
ber with everything down even to forgotten and moth-eaten two-
penny pamphlets, which may be used to the disadvantage of his
own country. But as to the Hartford Convention, sir, allow me
to say that the proceedings of that body seem now to be less
read and studied in New England than further South. They
appear to be looked to, not in New England, but elsewhere,
for the purpose of seeing how far they may serve as a precedent.
But they will not answer the purpose — they are quite too tame.
The latitude in which they originated was too cold. Other con-
ventions of more recent existence have gone a whole bar's length
beyond it. The learned doctors of Colleton and Abbeville have
pushed their commentaries on the Hartford collect so far that the
original text writers are thrown entirely into the shade. I have
nothing to do, sir, with the Hartford Convention. Its journal,
which the gentleman has quoted, I never read. So far as the
honorable Member may discover in its proceedings a spirit in
any degree resembling that which was avowed and justified in
those other conventions to which I have alluded, or so far as
those proceedings can be shown to be disloyal to the Constitution,
or tending to disunion, so far I shall be as ready as any one to
bestow on them reprehension and censure.

Having dwelt long on this convention, and other occurrences
of that day, in the hope, probably (which will not be gratified),
that I should leave the course of this debate to follow him, at
length, in those excursions, the honorable Member returned and
attempted another object. He referred to a speech of mine in
the other house, the same which I had occasion to allude to my-
self the other day, and has quoted a passage or two from it with
a bold, though uneasy and laboring air of confidence, as if he
had detected in me an inconsistency. Judging from the gentle-
man's manner, a stranger to the course of the debate, and to the
point in discussion, would have imagined from so triumphant a
tone that the honorable Member was about to overwhelm me
with a manifest contradiction. Any one who heard him, and who
had not heard what I had, in fact, previously said, must have
thought me routed and discomfited, as the gentleman had prom-
ised. Sir, a breath blows all this triumph away. There is not
the slightest difference in the sentiments of my remarks on the



DANIEL WEBSTER



127



two occasions. What I said here on Wednesday is in exact ac-
cordance with the opinion expressed by me in the other house in
1825. Though the gentleman had the metaphysics of Hudibras,
though he were able —

*To sever and divide
A hair 'twixt north and northwest side," —

he yet could not insert his metaphysical scissors between the fair
reading of my remarks in 1825 and what I said here last week.
There is not only no contradiction, no difference, but, in truth,
too exact a similarity, both in thought and language, to be en-
tirely in just taste. I had myself quoted the same speech, had
recurred to it, and spoke with it open before me, and much of
what I said was little more than a repetition from it. In order
to make finishing work with this alleged contradiction, permit
me to recur to the origin of this debate and review its course.
This seems expedient and may be done as well now as at any
time.

Well, then, its history is this: The honorable Member from
Connecticut moved a resolution, which constitutes the first branch
of that which is now before us; that is to say, a resolution in-
structing the committee on public lands to inquire into the ex-
pediency of limiting, for a certain period, the sales of the public
lands, to such as have heretofore been offered for sale; and
whether sundry offices connected with the sales of the lands
might not be abolished without detriment to the public service.

In the progress of the discussion which arose on this resolu-
tion, an honorable Member from New Hampshire moved to amend
the resolution so as entirely to reverse its object; that is to strike
it all out and insert a direction to the committee to inquire into
the expediency of adopting measures to hasten the sales and ex-
tend more rapidly the surveys of the lands.

The honorable Member from Maine, Mr. Sprague, suggested
that both those propositions might well enough go for considera-
tion to the committee; and in this state of the question, the
Member from South Carolina addressed the Senate in his first
speech. He rose, he said, to give us his own free thoughts on
the public lands. I saw him rise with pleasure and listened with
expectation, though before he concluded I was filled with sur-
prise. Certainly, I was never more surprised than to find him
following up, to the extent he did, the sentiments and opinions



128



DANIEL WEBSTER



which the gentleman from Missouri had put forth, and which it
is known he has long entertained.

I need not repeat at large the general topics of the honorable
gentleman's speech. When he said yesterday that he did not at-
tack the Eastern States, he certainly must have forgotten, not
only particular remarks, but the whole drift and tenor of his
speech; unless he means by not attacking, that he did not com-
mence hostilities, — but that another had preceded him in the
attack. He, in the first place, disapproved of the whole course
of the Government, for forty years, in regard to its dispositions
of the public land; and then turning northward and eastward,
and fancying he had found a cause for alleged narrowness and
niggardliness in the ^^ accursed polic)'- '^ of the tariff, to which he
represented the people of New England as wedded, he went on
for a full hour with remarks, the whole scope of which was to
exhibit the results of this policy, in feelings and in measures
unfavorable to the West. I thought his opinions unfounded and
erroneous as to the general course of the Government, and ven-
tured to reply to them.

The gentleman had remarked on the analogy of other cases,
and quoted the conduct of European governments towards their
own subjects, settling on this continent, as in point to show that
we had been harsh and rigid in selling, when we should have
given the public lands to settlers without price. I thought the
honorable Member had suffered his judgment to be betrayed by
a false analogy; that he was struck with an appearance of re-
semblance where there was no real similitude. I think so still.
The first settlers of North America were enterprising spirits,
engaged in private adventure or fleeing from tyranny at home.
When arrived here they were forgotten by the mother country,
or remembered only to be oppressed. Carried away again by
the appearance of analogy, or struck with the eloquence of the
passage, the honorable Member yesterday observed that the con-
duct of Government towards the Western emigrants, or my repre-
sentation of it, brought to his mind a celebrated speech in the
British Parliament. It was, sir, the speech of Colonel Barre. On
the question of the Stamp Act, or tea tax, I forget which, Colonel
Barre had heard a member on the treasury bench argue that the
people of the United States, being British colonists, planted by
the maternal care, nourished by the indulgence, and protected by
the arms of England, would not grudge their mite to relieve the



DANIEL WEBSTER



129



mother country from the heavy burden under which she groaned.
The language of Colonel Barre, in reply to this, was: They
planted by your care ? Your oppression planted them in Amer-
ica. They fled from your tyranny, and grew by your neglect of
them. So soon as you began to care for them, you showed your
care by sending persons to spy out their liberties, misrepresent
their character, prey upon them and eat out their substance.

And how does the honorable gentleman mean to maintain
that language like this is applicable to the conduct of the Gov-
ernment of the United States towards the Western emigrants, or
to any representation given by me of that conduct ? Were the
settlers in the West driven thither by our oppression ? Have they
flourished only by our neglect of them ? Has the Government
done nothing but to prey upon them and eat out their substance ?
Sir, this fervid eloquence of the British speaker, just when and
where it was uttered, and fit to remain an exercise for the schools,
is not a little out of place when it is brought thence to be ap-
plied here to the conduct of our own country towards her own
citizens. From America to England, it may be true; from
Americans to their own Government it would be strange lan-
guage. Let us leave it to be recited and declaimed by our boys
against a foreign nation; not introduce it here, to recite and de-
claim ourselves against our own.

But I come to the point of the alleged contradiction. In my
remarks on Wednesday I contended that we could not give away
gratuitously all the public lands; that we held them in trust; that
the Government had solemnly pledged itself to dispose of them.
as a common fund for the common benefit, and to sell and settle
them as its discretion should dictate. Now, sir, what contradic-
tion does the gentleman find to this sentiment, in the speech of
1825 ? He quotes me as having then said that we ought not to
hug these lands as a very great treasure. Very well, sir, sup-
posing me to be accurately reported in that expression, what is
the contradiction ? I have not now said that we should hug
these lands as a favorite source of pecuniary income. No such
thing. It is not my view. What I have said, and what I do
say, is that they are a common fund — to be disposed of for the
common benefit — to be sold at low prices for the accommodation
of settlers, keeping the object of settling the lands as much in
view as that of raising money from them. This I say now,
and this I have always said. Is this hugging them as a favorite
10 — 9



1^0 DANIEL WEBSTER

treasure ? Is there no difference between hugging and hoarding
this fund, on the one hand, as a great treasure, and, on the other,
of disposing of it at low prices, placing the proceeds in the gen-
eral treasury of the Union ? My opinion is that as much is to
be made of the land as fairly and reasonably may be, selling it
all the while at such rates as to give the fullest effect to settle-
ment. This is not giving it all away to the States, as the gen-
tleman would propose; nor is it hugging the fund closely and
tenaciously, as a favorite treasure; but it is, in my judgment, a
just and wise policy, perfectly according with all the various
duties which rest on government. So much for my contradiction.
And what is it ? Where is the ground for the gentleman's
triumph ? What inconsistency in word or doctrine has he been
able to detect ? Sir, if this be a sample of that discomfiture, with
which the honorable gentleman threatened me, commend me to
the word discomfiture for the rest of my life.

But, after all, this is not the point of the debate, and I must
now bring the gentleman back to what is the point.

The real question between me and him is: Has the doctrine y
been advanced at the South or the East, that the population of
the West should be retarded, or at least need not be hastened, on
account of its effect to drain off the people from the Atlantic
States ? Is this doctrine, as has been alleged, of Eastern origin ?
That is the question. Has the gentleman found anything by
which he can make good his accusation ? I submit to the Senate,
that he has entirely failed; and as far as this debate has shown,
the only person who has advanced such sentiments is a gentle-
man from South Carolina, and a friend to the honorable Member
himself. The honorable gentleman has given no answer to this;
there is none which can be given. The simple fact, while it re-
quires no comment to enforce it, defies all argument to refute it.
I could refer to the speeches of another Southern gentleman, in
years before, of the same general character, and to the same
effect, as that which has been quoted; but I will not consume
the time of the Senate by the reading of them.

So then, sir. New England is guiltless of the policy of retarding_
Western population, and of all envy and jealousy of the growth qf^
the new States. Whatever there be of that policy in the country,
no part of it is hers. If it has a local habitation, the honorable
Member has probably seen, by this time, where to look for it; and
if it now has received a name, he has himself christened it.



DANIEL WEBSTER j,j

We approach, at length, sir, to a more important part of the
honorable gentleman's observations. Since it does not accord
with my views of justice and policy to give away the public lands
altogether, as mere matter of gratuity, I am asked by the honor-
able gentleman on what ground it is that I consent to vote them
away in particular instances? How, he inquires, do I reconcile
with these professed sentiments my support of measures appro-
priating portions of the lands to particular roads, particular canals,
particular rivers, and particular institutions of education in the
west? This leads, sir, to the real and wide difference, in politi-
cal opinion, between the honorable gentleman and myself. On
my part, I look upon all these objects as connected with the
common good, fairly embraced in its object and its terms; he, on
the contrary, deems them all, if good at all, only local good.
This is our difference. The interrogatory which he proceeded to
put, at once explains this difference. ^^What interest,*^ asks he,
^' has South Carolina in a canal in Ohio ? ^* Sir, this very ques-
tion is full of significance. It develops the gentleman's whole
political system; and its answer expounds mine. Here we differ.
I look upon a road over the Alleghany, a canal round the falls
of the Ohio, or a canal or railway from the Atlantic to the West-
ern waters, as being an object large and extensive enough to be
fairly said to be for the common benefit. The gentleman thinks



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 12 of 56)