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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that the founder, on his part, has agreed to establish his semi-
nary in New Hampshire, and to enlarge it beyond its original
design, among other things, for the benefit of that Province; and
thereupon a charter is given to him and his associates, designated
by himself, promising and assuring to them, under the plighted
faith of the State, the right of governing the college and admin-
istering its concerns in the manner provided in the charter.
There is a complete and perfect grant to them of all the power
of superintendence, visitation, and government. Is not this a
contract ? If lands or money had been granted to him and his as-
sociates, for the same purposes, such grant could not be rescinded.
And is there any difference, in legal contemplation, between a
grant of corporate franchises and a grant of tangible property ?
No such difference is recognized in any decided case, nor does it
exist in the common apprehension of mankind.

It is, therefore, contended that this case falls within the true
meaning of this provision of the Constitution, as expounded in
the decisions of this court; that the charter of 1769 is a contract,


a stipulation or agreement, mutual in its considerations, express
and formal in its terms, and of a most binding and solemn nat-
ure. That the acts in question impair this contract has already
been sufficiently shown. They repeal and abrogate its most es-
sential parts.


(Delivered on the Trial of John F. Knapp, for the Murder of Joseph "White,
of Salem, Massachusetts, on the Night of the Sixth of April, 1830)

I AM little accustomed, gentlemen, to the part which I am now
attempting to perform. Hardly more than once or twice has

it happened to me to be concerned, on the side of the Gov-
ernment, in any criminal prosecution whatever; and never, until
the present occasion, in any case affecting life.

But I very much regret it should have been thought neces-
sary to suggest to you that I am brought here to ^^ hurry you
against the law and beyond the evidence.'^ I hope I have too
much regard for justice, and too much respect for my own char-
acter, to attempt either; and were I to make such attempt, I am
sure that in this court nothing can be carried against the law,
and that gentlemen, intelligent and just as you are, are not, by
any power, to be hurried beyond the evidence. Though I could
well have wished to shun this occasion, I have not felt at liberty
to withhold my professional assistance, when it is supposed that
I might be in some degree useful, in investigating and discov-
ering the truth, respecting this most extraordinary murder. It
has seemed to be a duty, incumbent on me, as on every other
citizen, to do my best, and my utmost, to bring to light the per-
petrators of this crime. Against the prisoner at the bar, as an
individual, I cannot have the slightest prejudice. I would not do
him the smallest injury or injustice. But I do not affect to be
indifferent to the discovery and the punishment of this deep
guilt. I cheerfully share in the opprobrium, how much soever it
may be, which is cast on those who feel and manifest an anxious
concern that all who had a part in planning, or a hand in exe-
cuting this deed of midnight assassination, may be brought to
answer for their enormous crime, at the bar of public justice.
Gentlemen, it is a most extraordinary case. In some respects, it
has hardly a precedent anywhere; certainly none in our New



England history. This bloody drama exhibited no suddenly ex-
cited ungovernable rage. The actors in it were not surprised by
any lion-like temptation springing upon their virtue, and overcom-
ing it, before resistance could begin. Nor did they do the deed
to glut savage vengeance, or satiate long-settled and deadly hate.
It was a cool, calculating, money-making murder. It was all
<< hire and salary, not revenge. * It was the weighing of money
against life; the counting out of so many pieces of silver, against
so many ounces of blood.

An aged man, without an enemy in the world, in his own
house, and in his own bed, is made the victim of a butcherly
murder, for mere pay. Truly, here is a new lesson for painters
and poets. Whoever shall hereafter draw the portrait of murder,
if he will show it as it has been exhibited in an example, where
such example was last to have been looked for, in the very bo-
som of our New England society, let him not give it the grim
visage of Moloch, the brow knitted by revenge, the face black
with settled hate, and the bloodshot eye emitting livid fires of
malice. Let him draw, rather, a decorous, smoothfaced, bloodless
demon; a picture in repose, rather than in action; not so much
an example of human nature, in its depravity and in its parox-
ysms of crime, as an infernal nature, a fiend, in the ordinary dis-
play and development of his character.

The deed was executed with a degree of self-possession and
steadiness, equal to the wickedness with which it was planned.
The circumstances, now clearly in evidence, spread out the whole
scene before us. Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim,
and on all beneath his roof. A healthful old man, to whom sleep
was sweet, the first sound slumbers of the night held him in
their soft but strong embrace. The assassin enters, through the
window already prepared, into an unoccupied apartment. With
noiseless foot he paces the lonely hall, half lighted by the moon;
he winds up the ascent of the stairs, and reaches the door of the
chamber. Of this, he moves the lock, by soft and continued pres-
sure, till it turns on its hinges without noise; and he enters, and
beholds his victim before him. The room was uncommonly open
to the admission of light. The face of the innocent sleeper was
turned from the murderer, and the beams of the moon, resting
on the gray locks of his aged temple, showed him where to strike.
The fatal blow is given! and the victim passes, without a strug-
gle or a motion, from the repose of sleep to the repose of death!


It is the assassin's purpose to make sure work; and he yet plies
the dagger, though it was obvious that life had been destroyed
by the blow of the bludgeon. He even raises the aged arm, that
he may not fail in his aim at the heart, and replaces it again
over the woundc of the poniard! To finish the picture, he ex-
plores the wrist for the pulse! He feels for it, and ascertains
that it beats no longer! It is accomplished. The deed is done.
He retreats, retraces his steps to the window, passes out through
it as he came in, and escapes. He has done the murder — no eye
has seen him, no ear has heard him. The secret is his own, and
it is safe!

Ah! gentlemen, that was a dreadful mistake. Such a secret
can be safe nowhere. The whole creation of God has neither
nook nor corner, where the guilty can bestow it and say it is
safe. Not to speak of that eye which glances through all dis-
guises and beholds everything as in the splendor of noon — such
secrets of guilt are never safe from detection, even by men.
True it is, generally speaking, that ^^ murder will out. *^ True it
is, that Providence hath so ordained and doth so govern things
that those who break the great law of heaven by shedding man's
blood seldom succeed in avoiding discovery. Especially, in a
case exciting so much attention as this, discovery must come, and
will come sooner or later. A thousand eyes turn at once to ex-
plore every man, everything, every circumstance connected with
the time and place; a thousand ears catch every whisper; a
thousand excited minds intently dwell on the scene, shedding
all their light and ready to kindle the slightest circumstance into
a blaze of discovery. Meantime, the guilty soul cannot keep its
own secret. It is false to itself; or rather it feels an irresistible
impulse of conscience to be true to itself. It labors under its
guilty possession, and knows not what to do with it. The hu-
man heart was not made for the residence of such an inhabitant.
It finds itself preyed on by a torment which it dares not ac-
knowledge to God nor man. A vulture is devouring it, and it
can ask no sympathy or assistance, either from heaven or earth.
The secret which the murderer possesses scon comes to possess
him; and, like the evil spirits of which we read, it overcomes
him and leads him whithersoever it v/ill. He feels it beating at
his heart, rising to his throat, and demanding disclosure. He
thinks the whole world sees it in his face, reads it in his eyes,
and almost hears its workings in the very silence of his thoughts.


It has become his master. It betrays his discretion, it breaks
down his courage, it conquers his prudence. When suspicions,
from without, begin to embarrass him, and the net of circum-
stance to entangle him, the fatal secret struggles with still greater
violence to ..urst forth. It must be confessed; it will be con-
fessed; there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide
is confession.

(From the Speech Delivered iu the Senate, July 17th, 1850)

SIR, I was in Boston some month or two ago, and, at a meet-
ing of the people, said that the public mind of Massachu-
setts and the North was laboring under certain prejudices,
and that I would take an occasion, which I did not then enjoy,
to state what I supposed these prejudices to be, and how they
had arisen. I shall say a few words on the subject now. In
the first place, I think that there is no prejudice on the part of
the people of Massachusetts or of the North, arising out of any
ill-will, or any want of patriotism or good feeling, to the whole
country. It all originates in misinformation, false representation,
misapprehensions arising from those laborious efforts that have
been made for the last twenty years to pervert the public judg-
ment and irritate the public feeling.

The first of these misapprehensions is an exaggerated sense
of the actual evil of the reclamation of fugitive slaves, felt by
Massachusetts and the other New England States. What pro-
duced that ? The cases do not exist. There has not been a case
within the knowledge of this generation, in which a man has
been taken back from Massachusetts into slaver)^ by process of
law, not one; and yet there are hundreds of people, who read
nothing but Abolition newspapers, who suppose that these cases
arise weekly; that, as a common thing, men, and sometimes their
wives and children, are dragged back from the free soil of Mas-
sachusetts into slavery at the South. . , .

Sir, the principle of the restitution of runaway slaves is not
objectionable, unless the Constitution is objectionable. If the
Constitution is right in that respect, the principle is right and the
law pi'oviding for carrying it into effect is right. If that be so,


and if there be no abuse of the right under any law of Congress
or any other law, then what is there to complain of ?

I say, sir, that not only has there been no case so far as I
can learn of the reclamation of a slave by his master, which
ended in taking him back to slavery in this generation, but I
will add that so far as I have been able to go back in my re-
searches, as far as I have been able to hear and learn in all
that region, there has been no one case of false claim. Who
knows in all New England of a single case of false claim having
ever been set up to an alleged fugitive from slavery ? It may
possibly have happened; but I have never known it nor heard of
it, although I have made diligent inquiry; nor do I believe there
is the slightest danger of it, for all the community are alive to,
and would take instant alarm at any appearance of such a case,
and especially at this time. There is no danger of any such vio-
lation being perpetrated. Before I pass from this subject, sir, I
will say that what seems extraordinary is this, that this principle
of restitution which has existed in the country for more than two
hundred years without complaint, sometimes as a matter of agree-
ment between the Northern colonies and the South, and some-
times as a matter of comity, should all at once, and after the
length of time I have mentioned, become a subject of excitement.
I happen to have in my hand a letter from Governor Berkeley,
the governor of Virginia, to Governor Endicott, of Massachusetts,
written in the year 1644, — more than two hundred years ago, —
in which he says that a certain gentleman [naming him] had lost
some servants whom he supposes to have run away, giving their
names, into the jurisdiction of Massachusetts; and the Member
from Kentucky [Mr. Clay] will be pleased to learn that it con-
tains a precedent for what he considers to be the proper course
of proceeding in such cases. Governor Berkeley states that the
gentleman, the owner of the slaves, has made it appear in court
that they are his slaves and have run away. He goes on to say:
^^ We expect you to use all kind offices for the restoration to
their master of these fugitives, as we constantly exercise the same
offices in restoring runaways to you.*' At that day I do not sup-
pose there were a great many slaves in Massachusetts; but there
was an extensive system of apprenticeship, and hundreds of per-
sons were bound apprentices in Massachusetts, some of whom
would run away. They were as likely to run to Virginia as any-
where else; and in such cases they were returned, upon demand,


to their masters. Indeed, it was found necessary in the early
laws of Massachusetts to make provision for the seizure and re-
turn of runaway apprentices. In all the revisions of our laws,
this provision remains; and here it is in the revised statutes now
before me. It provides that runaway apprentices shall be secured
upon the application of their masters, or any one on their behalf,
and put into jail until they can be sent for by their mastc^^. ; and
there is no trial by jury in their case, either. I say, therefore,
that the exaggerated statement of the danger and mischii;[ aris-
ing from this right of reclaiming slaves is a prejudice produced
by the causes I have stated and one which ought not longer to
haunt and terrify the public mind. . . .

Mr. President, it has always seemed to me to be a grateful re-
flection that, however short and transient may be the lives of in-
dividuals, States may be permanent. The great corporations that
embrace the government of mankind, protect their liberties, and
secure their happiness, may have something of perpetuity, and, as
I might say, of immortality. For my part, sir, I gratify myself by
contemplating what in the future will be the condition of that
generous State, which has done me the honor to keep me in the
counsels of the country for so many years. I see nothing about
her in prospect less than that which encircles her now. I feel
that when I and all those that now hear me shall have gone to
our last home, and afterwards, when mold may have gathered
upon our memories as it will have done upon our tomb, that
State, so early to take her part in the great contest of the Rev-
olution, wall stand as she has and does now stand, like that col-
umn which, near her capitol, perpetuates the memory of the first
great battle of the Revolution, firm, erect, and immovable, I be-
lieve, sir, that if commotion shall shake the country, there will be
one rock forever, as solid as the granite of her hills, for the
Union to repose upon. I believe that if disasters arise, bringing
clouds which shall obscure the ensign now over her and over us,
there will be one star that will but burn the brighter amid the
darkness of that night; and I believe that if in the remotest ages
— I trust they will be infinitely remote — an occasion shall occur
when the sternest duties of patriotism are demanded and to be
performed, Massachusetts will imitate her ow'n example; and that
as at the breaking out of the Revolution, she was the first to of-
fer the outpouring of all her blood and all her treasure in the
struggle for liberty, so she will be hereafter ready when the


emergency arises to repeat and renew that offer with a thousand
times as many warm hearts and a thousand times as many strong

And now, Mr. President, to return at last to the principal and
important question before us : What are we to do ? How are we
to bring this emergent and pressing question to an issue and an
end ? Here have we been seven and a half months disputing
about points which, in my judgment, are of no practical import-
ance to one or the other part of the country. Are we to dwell
forever upon a single topic, a single idea ? Are we to forget all
the purposes for which governments are instituted, and continue
everlastingly to dispute about that which is of no essential con-
sequence ? I think, sir, the country calls upon us loudly and
imperatively to settle this question, I think that the whole
world is looking to see whether this great popular Government
can get through such a crisis. We are the observed of all ob-
servers. It is not to be disputed or doubted that the eyes of all
Christendom are upon us. We have stood through many trials.
Can we stand through this, which takes so much the character
of a sectional controversy ? Can we stand that ? There is no
inquiring man in all Europe who does not ask himself that ques-
tion every day, when he reads the intelligence of the morning.
Can this country, with one set of interests at the South, and an-
other set of interests at the North, these interests supposed, but
falsely supposed, to be at variance, — can this people see, what is
so evident to the whole world beside, that this Union is their main
hope and greatest benefit, and that their interests are entirely
compatible ? Can they see, and will they feel, that their prosper-
ity, their respectability among the nations of the earth, and their
happiness at home, depend upon the maintenance of their Union
and their Constitution ? That is the question. I agree that local
divisions are apt to overturn the understandings of men, and to
excite a belligerent feeling between section and section. It is
natural, in times of irritation, for one part of the country to say,
if you do that I will do this, and so get up a feeling of hostility
and defiance. Then comes belligerent legislation, and then an ap-
peal to arms. The question is, whether we have the true patriot-
ism, the Americanism, necessary to carry us through such a trial.
The whole world is looking towards us with extreme anxiety
For myself I propose, sir, to abide by the principles and the pur-
poses which I have avowed. I shall stand by the Union, and by
10— 15


all who stand by it. I shall do justice to the whole country, ac-
cording to the best of my ability, in all I say, and act for the
good of the whole country in all I do. I mean to stand upon the
Constitution. I need no other platform. I shall know but one
country. The ends I aim at shall be my Country's, my God's,
and Truth's. I was born an American; I live an American; I shall
die an American; and I intend to perform the duties incumbent
upon me in that character to the end of m}^ career. I mean to
do this, with absolute disregard of personal consequences. What
are personal consequences ? What is the individual man, with all
the good or evil that may betide him, in comparison with the
good or evil which may befall a great country in a crisis like
this, and in the midst of great transactions which concern that
country's fate ? Let the consequences be what they will, I am
careless. No man can suffer too much, and no man can fall too
soon, if he suffer, or if he fall, in defense of the liberties and
Constitution of his country.


After the Portrait-Engraving of S. Freeman.



PoHN Wesley, the celebrated founder of the Methodist Episco-
pal Church, is described as a facile extemporaneous speaker
^* whose oratory was colloquial, terse, and homely, but never
vulgar.'^ It was probably Sydney Smith, who, after writing a book
review, denied that he had prejudiced himself against the work by
reading it. The standard authority which thus characterizes Wesley's
style is probably entitled to the benefit of a similar denial, for, as a
matter of fact, Wesley's style is scholarly rather than colloquial, and
classical rather than homely. He was a graduate of Oxford, and a
fellow of Lincoln College, who dearly loved a classical quotation, for
its own sake. He quotes English, Latin, and Greek verse with equal
pleasure, and apparently with equal facility. Modern editions of his
sermons, which omit his classical quotations, do not represent him in
what was one of the most striking characteristics of his style. He
quoted Homer and Horace with as much energy as he did St. Paul
in warning his generation against licentiousness in morals and luxury
in dress. His English is always clear and graceful; the movement of
his sentences is rapid, and in his style he compares favorably with
Butler, Taylor, and Bunyan. ^^ Let those who please, >^ he says, *^be in
raptures at the pretty, elegant sentences of Massillon and Bourdaloue.
. . . Let who will admire the French frippery. I am still for plain,
sound English. '^

He was born at Ep worth, England, June 28th (N. S.), 1703, from a
noted family of scholars, his father Samuel Wesley being an Oxford
graduate, and an intimate friend of Pope, Swift, and Prior. Graduating
at Oxford in 1727, John Wesley took orders in the Established Church,
of which he always considered himself a member, though he founded
Methodism as a protest against the politics of the Establishment and
the general demoralization of the aristocratic society of his day. He
visited Georgia as a missionary in 1735, spending three years in
America, and returning to England, where in 1739 he began his great
work as an open-air preacher. He died at London, March 2d, 1791.


(From a Sermon on I. Corinthians xiv. 20)

FAITH, according to Scripture, is "an evidence,'* or conviction
"of things not seen." It is a Divine evidence, bringing a
full conviction of an invisible eternal world. It is true
there was a kind of shadowy persuasion of this even among the
wiser heathen ; probably from tradition, or from some gleams of
light reflected from the Israelites. Hence many hundred years
before our Lord was born, the Greek poet uttered that great
truth, —

"Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, whether we wake, or if we sleep."

But this was little more than faint conjecture; it was far from a
high conviction; which reason, in its highest state of improve-
ment, could never produce in any child of man.

Many years ago I found the truth of this by sad experience.
After carefully heaping up the strongest arguments which I could
find, either in ancient or modern authors, for the very being of
a God, and (which is nearly connected with it) the existence of
an invisible world, I have wandered up and down musing with
myself: "What, if all these things which I see around me, this
earth and heaven, this universal frame, have existed from eternity?
What, if that melancholy supposition of the old poet be the real
case, —

Otiq Ttsp (fuXXwv y£v£7j, rocTjde xat avSptov/

What, if ^the generation of men be exactly parallel with the
generation of leaves * ? if the earth drops its successive inhabit-
ants just as the tree drops its leaves ? What, if that saying of a
great man be really true, —

Post mortem nihil est; ipsaque mors nihiU

* Death is nothing, and nothing is after death ? '*

How am I sure that this is not the case; that I have not fol-
lowed cunningly devised fables ? " And I have pursued the
thought, till there was no spirit in me, and I was ready to choose
strangling rather than life.


But in a point of so unspeakable importance, do not depend
upon the word of another; but retire for a while from the busy-
world, and make the experiment yourself. Try whether your
reason will give you a clear, satisfactory evidence of the invisible
world. After the prejudices of education are laid aside, produce
your strong reasons for the existence of this. Set them all in
array; silence all objections; and put all your doubts to flight.
Alas! you cannot, with all your understanding. You may repress
them for a season. But how quickly will they rally again, and
attack you with redoubled violence! And what can poor reason

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 22 of 56)