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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 4) online

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there came up now from beneath a clanking of chains.

Then I looked, and the whole firmament above the angel was
as if it were one azure eye; and into it the ten thousand times
ten thousand gazed; and I saw that they stood in one palm of a
Hand of Him into whose face they gazed, and that the soft axle
of the world stood upon the finger of another palm, and that
both palms were pierced. I saw the twelve spirits which had
gone forth, and they joined hands with each other and with the
twelve hours, and moved perpetually about the globe; and I
heard a Voice, after which there was no laughter: **Ye are effi-
cient, but I am sufficient."




FRANCIS CORBIN

( I 760-1821)

JT IS probable that the principles of government have never been
so earnestly and thoroughly discussed elsewhere as they were
in the Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts conventions
called in 1788 to ratify the Constitution of the United States. It is a
matter of curious interest to see how the orators in these conventions
were carried forward into the history of the future and rendered pro-
phetic by their adherence to one or the other of contending ideas of
Federal or State sovereignty. Each side saw clearly that as ultimate
sovereignty was left to reside with the State or was vested in the Fed-
eral Government, the history of the future would inevitably be controlled
in the one direction or the other in spite of all that could be done after
the Constitution was adopted. Patrick Henry, in Virginia, opposed,
with all his force, the "nationalization" of the Government under the
Constitution, as he had opposed the continuance of the federation. He
wanted a ''federal union" instead of a loosely joined confederation, but
he was more hostile to a "national" government than he was to a con-
federacy. He declared with vehemence that under the Constitution,
as proposed to the States, the Government would necessarily cease to
be federal, and become national, as a result of the inherent force of
principles which had been, as he thought, designedly introduced into
the Constitution by those he believed were really opponents of the pop-
ular supremacy appealed to in the clause, "we, the people." Among
the replies to his denunciation of what he considered the anti-federal
principles of the Constitution, that of Francis Corbin is one of the ablest.
Corbin argued openly that the National Government should have such
power of coercion against the States as it was not possible for it to ex-
ercise under the confederation. He was far from being terrified by
Henry's assertions that under a national government militarism and the
coercion of the States, when they undertook to resist national author-
ity, would become inevitable ; in fact, he seems to have been convinced
that what Henry and others considered formidable was necessary and
likely to be distinctly advantageous. Perhaps the very lucidity with
which he expresses himself accounts for the fact that after the con-
vention he disappeared almost completely from history. He was born
in 1760 of one of the powerful colonial families of Virginia. After

i '165



j56 FRANCIS CORBIN

Ws return from England, where he was educated at Cambridge and
in the Middle Temple, he was sent as a delegate to the constitutional
convention, and though only twenty-eight years old he made one of
the most notable speeches of the time. From 1787 to 1793 he rep-
resented Middlesex County, in the Virginia legislature. He died June
15, 1821.



ANSWERING PATRICK HENRY

(Delivered Saturday, June 7th, 1788, During the Debate on the Coercive Pow-
ers of the Federal Government, in the Virginia Convention Called to
Ratify the Federal Constitution)

Mr. Chairman: —

PERMIT me to make a few observations on this great question.
It is with great difficulty I prevail on myself to enter into
the debate, when I consider the great abilities of those
gentlemen who have already spoken on the subject. But as I
am urged by my duty to my constituents, and as I conceive that
the different manner of treating the subject may make different
impressions, I shall offer my observations with diffident respect,
but with firmness and independence. I will promise my ac-
knowledgments to those honorable gentlemen who were in the
Federal Convention, for the able and satisfactory manner in
which they discharged their duty to their country. The intro-
ductory expression of ^'We, the people,'* has been thought
improper by the honorable gentleman. I expected no such ob-
jection as this. Ought not the people, sir, to judge of that gov-
ernment whereby they are to be ruled ? We are, sir, deliberating
on a question of great consequence to the people of America,
and to the world in general. We ought, therefore, to decide
with extreme caution and circumspection; it is incumbent upon
us to proceed without prejudice or prepossession. No member
of the committee entertains a greater regard than myself for the
gentleman on the other side, who has placed himself in the front
of opposition. [Mr. Henry.] No man admires more than I do
his declamatory talents; but I trust that neither declamation nor
elegance of periods will mislead the judgment of any member
here, and that nothing but the force of reasoning will operate
conviction. He has asked, with an air of triumph, whether the
Confederation was not adequate to the purposes of the Federal
Government. Permit me to say, No. If, sir, perfection existed in



FRANCIS CORBIN jg^

that system, why was the Federal Convention called ? Why did
every State except Rhode Island send deputies to that conven-
tion ?

Was it not from a persuasion of its inefficacy ? If this be not
sufficient to convince him, let me call the recollection of the
honorable gentleman to other circumstances. Let him go into
the interior parts of the country and inquire into the situation
of the farmers. He will be told that tobacco and other produce
are miserably low, merchandise dear, and taxes high. Let him
go through the United States. He will perceive appearances of
ruin and decay everywhere. Let him visit the seacoast — go to
our ports and inlets. In those ports, sir, where we had every
reason to see the fleets of all nations, he will behold but a few
trifling little boats; he will everywhere see commerce languish,
the disconsolate merchant, with his arms folded, ruminating, in de-
spair, on the wretched ruins of his fortune, and deploring the
impossibility of retrieving it. The West Indies are blocked up
against us. Not the British only, but other nations, exclude us
from those islands: our fur trade has gone to Canada; British
sentinels are within our own territories; our imposts are with-
held. To these distresses we may add the derangement of our
finances; yet the honorable gentleman tells us they are not suf-
ficient to justify so radical a change. Does he know the con-
sequences of deranged finances ? What confusions, disorders, and
even revolutions, have resulted from this cause, in many nations!
Look at France at this time: that kingdom is almost convulsed;
ministers of state, and first princes of the blood, banished; manu-
facturers and merchants become bankrupt, and the people discon-
tented — all owing to the derangement of their finances.

The honorable gentleman must be well acquainted with the
debts due by the United States, and how much is due to foreign
nations. Has not the payment of these been shamefully with-
held ? How long, sir, shall we be able, by fair promises, to sat-
isfy these creditors ? How long can we amuse, by idle words,
those who are amply possessed of the means of doing themselves
justice ? No part of the principal is paid to those nations, nor
has even the interest been paid as honorably and punctually as
it ought. Nay, we were obliged to borrow money last year to
pay the interest. What! borrow money to discharge the interest
of what was borrowed, and continually augment the amount of
the public debt! Such a plan would destroy the richest country



l68 FRANCIS CORBIN

on earth. What is to be done ? Compel the delinquent States to
pay requisitions to Congress ? How are they to be compelled ?
By the instrumentality of such a scheme as was proposed to be
introduced in the year 1784? Is this cruel mode of compulsion
eligible ? Is it consistent with the spirit of republicanism ? This
savage mode, which could be made use of under the Confedera-
tion, leads directly to civil war and destruction. How different
is this from the genius of the proposed constitution! By this
proposed plan, the public money is to be collected by mild and
gentle means; by a peaceable and friendly application to the in-
dividuals of the community: whereas, by the other scheme, the
public treasury must be supplied through the medium of the
sword, by desolation and murder — by the blood of the citizens.
Yet we are told that there is too much energy in this system.
Coercion is necessary in every government. Justice, sir, cannot be
done without it. It is more necessary in federal governments
than any other, because of the natural imbecility of such govern-
ments.

The honorable gentleman is possessed of much historical
knowledge. I appeal to that knowledge therefore. Will he not
agree that there was a coercive power in the federal government
cf the Amphictyonics ? The coercive power of the Amphictyonic
Council was so great as to enable it to punish disobedience and
refractory behavior in the most severe manner. Is there not an
instance of its carrying fire and sword through the territories,
and leveling to the ground the towns, of those who disobeyed it ?
[Here Mr. Corbin mentions particular instances.] Is there no
coercion in the Germanic body ? This body, though composed of
three hundred different component sovereignties, principalities,
and cities, and divided into nine circles, is controlled by one
superintending power, the emperor. Is there no coercive power
in the confederate government of the Swiss ? In the alliance
between them and France, there is a provision whereby the
latter is to interpose and settle differences that may arise among
them; and this interposition has been more than once used. Is
there none in Holland ? What is the stadtholder ? This power
is necessary in all governments; a superintending coercive power
is absolutely indispensable. This does not exist under the pres-
ent Articles of Confederation. To vest it with such a power, on
its present construction, without any alteration, would be exv
tremely dangerous, and might lead to civil war. Gentlemen



FRANCIS CORBIN



169



must, before this, have been convinced of the necessity of an
alteration. Our State vessel has sprung a leak; we must embark
in a new bottom, or sink into perdition.

The honorable gentleman has objected to the Constitution on
the old worn-out idea that a republican government is best cal-
culated for a small territory. If a republic, sir, cannot be accom-
modated to an extensive country, let me ask, how small must a
country be to suit the genius of republicanism ? In what partic-
ular extent of country can a republican government exist ? If
contracted into as small a compass as you please, it must labor
under many disadvantages. Too small an extent will render a
repubHc weak, vulnerable, and contemptible. Liberty in such
a petty state must be on a precarious footing; its existence must
depend on the philanthropy and good nature of its neighbors.
Too large an extent, it is said, will produce confusion and
tyranny. What has been so often deprecated will be removed
by this plan. The extent of the United States cannot render the
government oppressive. The powers of the General Governmenl
are only of a general nature, and their object is to protect,
defend, and strengthen the United States; but the internal ad-
ministration of government is left to the State legislatures, who
exclusively retain such powers as will give the States the advan-
tages of small republics, without the danger commonly attendant
on the weakness of such governments.

There are controversies even about the name of this goV"
ernment. It is denominated by some a federal, by others a
consolidated government. The definition given of it by my hon-
orable friend [Mr. Madison] is, in my opinion, accurate. Let
me, however, call it by another name — a representative federal
republic, as contradistinguished from a confederacy. The former
is more wisely constructed than the latter; it places the remedy
in the hands which feel the disorder: the other places the remedy
in those hands which cause the disorder. The evils that are
most complained of in such governments (and with justice) are
faction, dissension, and consequent subjection of the minority to
the caprice and arbitrary decisions of the majority, who, instead
of consulting the interest of the whole community collectively,
attend sometimes to partial and local advantages. To avoid this
evil is perhaps the great desideratum of republican wisdom; it
may be termed the philosopher's stone. Yet, .sir, this evil will
be avoided by this Constitution: faction will be removed b}- the



1^0 FRANCIS CORBIN

system now under consideration, because all the causes which are
generally productive of faction are removed. This evil does not
take its flight entirely; for were jealousies and divisions entirely
at an end, it might produce such lethargy as would ultimately
terminate in the destruction of liberty, to the preservation of
which watchfulness is absolutely necessary. It is transferred
from the State legislatures to Congress, where it will be more
easily controlled. Faction will decrease in proportion to the dim-
inution of counselors. It is much easier to control it in small
than in large bodies. Our State legislature consists of upwards
of one hundred and sixty, which is a greater number than Con-
gress will consist of at first. Will not more concord and una-
nimity exist in one than in thirteen such bodies ? Faction will
more probably decrease, or be entirely removed, if the interest
of a nation be entirely concentrated, than if entirely diversified.
If thirteen men agree, there will be no faction. Yet if opposite,
and of heterogeneous dispositions, it is impossible that a majority
of such clashing minds can ever concur to oppress the minority.
It is impossible that this Government, which will make us one
people, will have a tendency to assimilate our situations, and is
admirably calculated to produce harmony and unanimity, can
ever admit of an oppressive combination by one part of the
Union against the other.

A confederate government is, of all others, best calculated for
an extensive country. Its component individual governments
are, of all others, best calculated for an extensive country. Its
component individual governments administer and afford all the
local conveniences that the most compact governments can do;
and the strength and energy of the confederacy may be equal
to those of any government. A government of this kind may
extend to all the Western World; nay, I may say, ad infinitum.
But it is needless to dwell any longer on this subject; for the
objection that an extensive territory is repugnant to a republican
government applies against this and every State in the Union,
except Delaware and Rhode Island. Were the objection well
founded, a republican government could exist in none of the
States, except those two. Such an argument goes to the disso-
lution of the Union, and its absurdity is demonstrated by our
own experience.




THOMAS CORWIN

(1794-1865)

I HE Speech on the Mexican War, made in the United States
Senate, February nth, 1847, by Thomas Corwin, then a Sena-
tor from Ohio, is one of the most remarkable ever delivered
in America. Seemingly futile, and apparently leaving Corwin almost
in a minority of one among the public men of his day, it gave him
an assured immortality and an influence that will endure in America
as long as American institutions continue to be inspired by the love
of justice which animated him in that supreme effort of his life. His
prophecy of civil war as a result of the acquisition of territory by
conquest from Mexico was literally fulfilled. In three years after the
speech was delivered, the Civil War had virtually begun when lines
were drawn on the admission of California, and, the influence of such
conservatives as Clay and Webster being broken, the extremists of
both sections gained such an overwhelming influence, that the main-
tenance of peace became impossible. It is sometimes supposed that
the speech retired Corwin from politics, but this was not the case.
Although he was left to make his stand alone, he was really repre-
sentative in making it and he had the silent sympathy perhaps of a
majority, and certainly, as the result shows, of a controlling balance
of power, not only in Ohio, but in the country at large. The Whig
party had been disorganized by the blunders, and the vacillation of
its leaders on the questions of the tariff, of nullification, of the an-
nexation of Texas, and of Slavery as a permanent institution, but the
latent sentiment of repugnance to the conquest and dismemberment
of Mexico, which Corwin represented, gave the party what has been
called "a postmortem victory,'^ the last it ever achieved in national
politics. The Democratic party in administration had fought the war
with almost no expense to the national treasury, had achieved a
series of most remarkable victories, had marched triumphantly through
the heart of the enemy's country, and had occupied their capital, and,
without a single reverse to dim the military glory for which it had
striven, had added to the country an immense domain, secured at
a merely nominal price. Nevertheless, the immediate result was the
defeat of the Democratic presidential ticket by the Whigs in the cam-
paign immediately ensuing, and, hard on this reverse, the successful
organization of the Republican party, whose radical sentiment was

^71



172



THOMAS CORWIN



represented by James Russell Lowell, in his characteristic line, ^' You
have got to get up airly if you hope to get 'round God.'^ Corwin,
after making his speech of 1847, and probably as a result of it, be-
came Secretary of the Treasury in the Whig Cabinet, holding that
place from 1850 to 1853, and thereafter working to assist the Repub-
lican party, which, as a result of the forces he represented in his
speech of 1847, carried the election of i860 and held power continu-
ously for a quarter of a century. Corwin himself was elected to
Congress from Ohio in 1859 and served to 1861, when President
Lincoln appointed him United States Minister to Mexico, an office
he held until 1864. He was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, July
29th, 1794, and died at Washington, December i8th, 1865. In reading
his impassioned protests against dismembering Mexico, it is often
difficult to imagine what he lacked of the highest rank as an orator,
but the speech, when read as a whole, suggests that he failed of
leadership, not because of the courage and the compelling sense of
justice which inspired him, but rather because of lacking the sus-
tained force necessary for great achievement. He was content to go
on record in a splendid outburst of impassioned protest against what
his whole nature condemned as a wrong; and, being so content, he
left to others the work of inflicting that retribution which he had
seen so clearly was inevitable as a result of the operation of laws
which govern human as they do universal nature. Doubtless, he
lived more happily and died more contentedly than if it had been
otherwise, but it is hard to see how any one who studies American
history can impute his failure to maintain leadership to the speech
which gave him so remarkable an opportunity for it.

W. V. B.



AGAINST DISMEMBERING MEXICO
(From a Speech in the United States Senate, February nth, 1847)

YOU may wrest provinces from Mexico by war; you may hold
them by the right of the strongest; you may rob her; but
a treaty of peace to that effect with the people of Mexico,
legitimately and freely made, you never will have! I thank God
that it is so, as well for the sake of the Mexican people as our-
selves; for, unlike the Senator from Alabama [Mr. Bagby], I do
not value the life of a citizen of the United States above the
lives of a hundred thousand Mexican women and children — a
rather cold sort of philanthrophy in my judgment. For the sake
of Mexico, then, as well as our own country, I rejoice that it is



THOMAS CORWIN



173



an impossibility that you can obtain by treaty from her those
territories, under the existing state of things.

I am somewhat at a loss to know on what plan gentlemen
having charge of this war intend to proceed. We hear much said
of the terror of your arms. The affrighted Mexican, it is said,
when you have drenched his coimtry in blood, will sue for peace,
and thus you will indeed ** conquer peace.*' This is the heroic
and savage tone in which we have heretofore been lectured by
our friends on the other side of the Chamber, especially by the
Senator from Michigan [Mr. Cass]. But suddenly the Chairman
of the Committee on Foreign Relations comes to us with the
smooth phrase of diplomacy, made potent by the gentle suasion
of gold. The Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs
calls for thirty millions of money and ten thousand regular
troops; these, we are assured, shall ** conquer peace,*' if the obsti-
nate Celt refuses to treat till we shall whip him in another field
of blood. What a delightful scene in the nineteenth century of
the Christian era! What an interesting sight to see these two
representatives of war and peace moving in grand procession
through the Halls of the Montezumas! The Senator from Michi-
gan [Mr. Cass], red with the blood of recent slaughter, the gory
spear of Achilles in his hand, and the hoarse clarion of war at
his mouth, blowing a blast ^' so loud and deep *' that the sleeping
echoes of the lofty Cordilleras start from their caverns and return
to the sound, till every ear from Panama to Santa Fe is deaf-
ened with the roar. By his side, with ^^ modest mien and down-
cast look,* comes the Senator from Arkansas [Mr. Sevier], covered
from head to foot with a gorgeous robe, glittering and embossed
with three millions of shining gold, putting to shame " the
wealth of Ormus or of Ind. '* The olive of Minerva graces his
brow; in his right hand is the delicate rebeck, from which are
breathed in Lydian measure notes ^^ that tell of naught but love
and peace.'' I fear very much that you will scarcely be able to
explain to the simple mind of the half -civilized Mexican the
puzzling dualism of this scene, at once gorgeous and grotesque.
Sir, I scarcely understand the meaning of all this myself. If we
are to vindicate our rights by battles — in bloody fields of war —
let us do it. If that is not the plan, why, then, let us call back
our armies into our own territor}^ and propose a treaty with
Mexico, based upon the proposition that money is better for her
and land for us. Thus we can treat Mexico like an equal, and



THOMAS CORWIN

do honor to ourselves. But what is it you ask ? You have
taken from Mexico one-fourth of her territory, and you now pro-
pose to run a line comprehending about another third, and foi
what ? I ask, Mr. President, for what ? What has Mexico got
from you, for parting with two-thirds of her domain ? She has
given you ample redress for every injury of which you have
complained. She has submitted to the award of your commis-
sioners, and, up to the time of the rupture with Texas, faith-
fully paid it. And for all that she has lost (not through or by
you, but which loss has been your gain), what requital do we,
her strong, rich, robust neighbor, make ? Do we send our mis-
sionaries there " to point the way to heaven * ? Or do we send
the schoolmasters to pour daylight into her dark plans, to aid
her infant strength to conquer, and reap the fruit of the inde-
pendence herself alone had won ? No, no ; none of this do we.
But we send regiments, storm towns, and our colonels prate of
liberty in the midst of the solitudes their ravages have made.
They proclaim the empty forms of social compact to a people
bleeding and maimed with wounds received in defending their
hearthstones against the invasion of these very men who shoot
them down and then exhort them to be free. Your chaplains of
the navy throw away the New Testament and seize a bill of
rights. The Rev. Don Walter Colton, I see, abandons the Ser-
mon on the Mount and betakes himself to Blackstone and Kent,



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 4) → online text (page 16 of 39)