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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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and is elected a justice of the peace ! He takes military posses-
sion of some town in California, and instead of teaching the
plan of the atonement and the way of salvation to the poor
ignorant Celt, he presents a Colt's pistol to his ear and calls on
him to take "trial by jury and habeas corpus,* or nine bullets
in his head. Ah, Mr. President, are you not the light of the
earth, if not its salt ? You, you are indeed opening the eyes of
the blind in Mexico with a most emphatic and exoteric power.
Sir, if all this were not a mournful truth it would be the ne plus
ultra of the ridiculous. But, sir, let us see what, as the Chair-
man of the Committee on Foreign Relations explains it, we are
to get by the combined processes of conquest and treaty.

What is the territory, Mr. President, which you propose to
wrest from Mexico ? It is consecrated to the heart of the Mexican
by many a well-fought battle with his old Castilian master. His
Bunker Hills, and Saratogas, and Yorktowns are there! The
Mexican can say, " There I bled for liberty ! and shall I sur-



THOMAS COR WIN ^^-

render that consecrated home of my affections to the Anglo-
Saxon invaders ? What do they want with it ? They have Texas
already. They have possessed themselves of the territory be-
tween the Nueces and the Rio Grande. What else do they want ?
To what shall I point my children as memorials of that inde-
pendence which I bequeath to them, when those battlefields shall
have passed from my possession ? **

Sir, had one come and demanded Bunker Hill of the people
of Massachusetts, had England's lion ever showed himself there,
is there a man over thirteen and under ninety who would not
have been ready to meet him ? Is there a river on this conti-
nent that would not have run red with blood? Is there a field
but would have been piled high with unburied bones of slaugh-
tered Americans before these consecrated battlefields of liberty
should have been wrested from us ? But this same American
goes into a sister Republic, and says to poor, weak Mexico,
**Give up your territory, you are unworthy to possess it; I have
got one-half already, and all I • ask of you is to give up the
other!* England might as well, in the circumstances I have de-
scribed, have come and demanded of us, ^* Give up the Atlantic
slope — give up this trifling territory from the Alleghany Mount-
ains to the sea; it is only from Maine to St. Mary's — only
about one-third of your Republic, and the least interesting por-
tion of it.* What would be the response ? They would say we
must give this up to John Bull. Why? "He wants room.*
The Senator from Michigan says he must have this. Why, my
worthy Christian brother ; on what principle of justice ? " I want
room ! *

V Sir, look at this pretense of want of room. With twenty
millions of people, you have about one thousand millions of
acres of land, inviting settlement by every conceivable argument,
bringing them down to a quarter of a dollar an acre, and allow-
ing every man to squat where he pleases. But the Senator from
Michigan says we will be two hundred millions in a few years,
and we want room. If I were a Mexican I would tell you,
" Have you not room enough in your own country to bury your
dead ? If you come into mine, we will greet you with bloody
hands, and welcome you to hospitable graves.*

Why, says the Chairman of this Committee on Foreign Rela-
tions, it is the most reasonable thing in the world! We ought
to have the Bay of San Francisco ! Why ? Because it is the best



176



THOMAS CORWIN



harbor on the Pacific! It has been my fortune, Mr. President, to
have practiced a good deal in criminal courts in the course of my
life, but I never yet heard a thief, arraigned for stealing a horse,
plead that it was the best horse he could find in the country!
We want California. What for ? Why, says the Senator from
Michigan, we will have it; and the Senator from South Caro-
lina, with a very mistaken view, I think, of policy, says you
can't keep our people from going there. I don't desire to pre-
vent them. Let them go and seek their happiness in whatever
country or clime it pleases them. All I ask of them is, not to
require this government to protect them with that banner conse-
crated to war waged for principles — eternal, enduring truth.
Sir, it is not meet that our old flag should throw its protecting
folds over expeditions for lucre or for land. But you still say
you want room for your people. This has been the plea of
every robber chief from Nimrod to the present hour. I dare say
when Tamerlane descended from his throne, built of seventy
thousand human skulls, and marched his ferocious battalions to
further slaughter, — I dare say he said, "I want room.'* Bajazet
was another gentleman of kindred tastes and wants with us
Anglo-Saxons — he ^Svanted room.* Alexander, too, the mighty
** Macedonian madman, * when he wandered with his Greeks to
the plains of India, and fought a bloody battle on the very
ground where recently England and the Sikhs engaged in strife
for ^<room,>' was, no doubt, in quest of some California there.
Many a Monterey had he to storm to get *^ room. '* Sir, he made
as much of that sort of history as you ever will. Mr. President,
do you remember the last chapter in that history ? It is soon
read. Ah, I wish we could but understand its moral. Ammon's
son (so was Alexander named), after all his victories, died drunk
in Babylon ! The vast empire he conquered to " get room, *
became the prey of the generals he had trained: it was dis-
membered, torn to pieces, and so ended. Sir, there is a very
significant appendix; it is this: The descendants of the Greeks,
Alexander's Greeks, are now governed by a descendant of At-
tila! Mr. President, while we are fighting for room, let us pon-
der deeply this appendix. I was somewhat amazed the other
day to hear the Senator from Michigan declare that Europe had
quite forgotten us, till these battles waked them up. I suppose
the Senator feels grateful to the President for " waking up '*
Europe. Does the President, who is, I hope, read in civic as



THOMAS CORWIN j^y

well as military lore, remember the saying of one who h?.d pon-
dered upon history long; long, too, upon man, his nature, and
true destiny. Montesquieu did not think highly of this way of
* waking up.** "Happy,** says he, "is that nation whose annals
are tiresome.**

The Senator from Michigan has a different view. He thinks
that a nation is not distinguished until it is distinguished in war.
He fears that the slumbering faculties of Europe have not been
able to ascertain that there are twenty millions of Anglo-Saxons
here, making railroads and canals, and speeding all the arts of
peace to the utmost accomplishment of the most refined civiliza-
tion! They do not know it! And what is the wonderful expe-
dient which this democratic method of making history would
adopt in order to make us known ? Storming cities, desolating
peaceful, happy homes; shooting men — ay, sir, such is war —
and shooting women, too.

^ Sir, I have read in some account of your battle of Monterey,
of a lovely Mexican girl who, with the benevolence of an angel
in her bosom and the robust courage of a hero in her heart,
was busily engaged during the bloody conflict — amid the crash
of falling houses, the groans of the dying, and the wild shriek
of battle — in carrying water to slake the burning thirst of the
wounded of either host. While bending over a wounded Ameri-
can soldier, a cannon ball struck her and blew her to atoms!
Sir, I do not charge my brave, generous-hearted countrymen
who fought that fight with this. No, no. We who send them —
we who know that scenes like this, which might send tears of
sorrow " down Pluto's iron cheek, ** are the invariable, inevitable
attendants on war — we are accountable for this; and this — this
is the way we are to be made known to Europe. This — this
is to be the undying renown of free, republican America; "she
has stormed a city, killed many of its inhabitants of both sexes
— she has room!** So it will read. Sir, if this were our only
history, then may God in his mercy grant that its volume may
speedily come to a close.

Why is it, sir, that we of the United States, a people of yes-
terday, compared with the older nations of the world, should be
waging war for territory, for " room ** ? Look at your country
extending from the Alleghany Mountains to the Pacific Ocean,
capable itself of sustaining in comfort a larger population than
will be in the whole Union for one hundred years to come.

-1 — 12



jyo THOMAS CORWIN

Over this vast expanse of territory your population is now so
sparse, that I believe we provided at the last session a regiment
of mounted men to guard the mail from the frontier of Missouri
to the mouth of the Columbia; and yet you persist in the ridic-
ulous assertion, ^* I want room.*^ One would imagine from the
frequent reiteration of the complaint, that you had a bursting,
teeming population, whose energy was paralyzed, whose enter-
prise was crushed, for want of space. Why should we be so
weak or wicked as to offer this idle apology for ravaging a
neighboring Republic! It will impose on no one, at home or
abroad.

Do we not know, Mr. President, that it is a law, never to be
repealed, that falsehood shall be short lived ? Was it not ordained
of old, that truth only shall abide forever ? Whatever we may
say to-day, or whatever we may write in our books, the stern
tribunal of history will review it all, detect falsehood, and bring
us to judgment before that posterity which shall bless or curse
us as we may act now, wisely or otherwise. We may hide in the
grave, which awaits us all! — in vain! We may hope to be con-
cealed there, like the foolish bird that hides its head in the sand,
in the vain belief that its body is not seen; yet, even there, this
preposterous excuse of want of " room '* shall be laid bare, and
the quick-coming future will decide that it was a hypocritical pre-
tense, under which we sought to conceal the avarice which
prompted us to covet and to seize, by force, that which was not
ours.

Mr. President, this uneasy desire to augment our territory has
depraved the moral sense, and blighted the otherwise keen
sagacity of our people. What has been the fate of all nations,
who have acted upon the idea that they must advance thus ?
Our young orators cherish this notion with a fervid, but fataliy-
mistaken zeal. They call it by the mysterious name of *^ des-
tiny. ^* " Our destiny, ** they say, " is onward ; ** and hence they
argue, with ready sophistry, the propriety of seizing upon any
territory and any people that may lie in the way of our ^^ fated *^
advance. Recently, these " progressives * have grown classical ;
some assiduous student of antiquities has helped them to a
patron saint. They have wandered back into the desolated
Pantheon, and there amongst the polytheistic relics of that ** pale
mother of dead empires," they have found a god whom these
Romans, centuries gone by, baptised " Terminus. *



THOMAS COR WIN

179

Sir, I have heard much and read somewhat of this gentleman,
Terminus. Alexander, of whom I have spoken, was a devotee of
this divinity. We have seen the end of him and his empire. It
was said to be an attribute of this god, that he must always
advance, and never recede. So both republican and imperial
Rome believed. It was, as they said, their destiny. And for a
while it did seem to be even so. Roman Terminus did advance.
Under the eagles of Rome, he was carried from his home on the
Tiber to the farthest East, on the one hand, and to the far
West, amongst the then barbarous tribes of western Europe, on
the other. But at length the time came when retributive justice
had become "a destiny.*^ The despised Gaul cries out to the
contemned Goth, and Attila, with his Huns, answers back the
battle-shout to both. The "blue-eyed nations of the North, ^^ in
succession, or united, pour forth their countless hosts of warriors
upon Rome and Rome's always advancing god. Terminus. And
now the battle-axe of the barbarian strikes down the conquering
eagle of Rome. Terminus at last recedes, slowly at first, but
finally he is driven to Rome, and from Rome to Byzantium.
Whoever would know the further fate of this Roman deity, so
recently taken under the patronage of American Democracy,
may find ample gratification of his curiosity in the luminous
pages of Gibbon's ^ Decline and Fall. ^ Such will find that Rome
thought, as you now think, that it was her destiny to conquer
provinces and nations, and no doubt she sometimes said, as you
say, "I will conquer a peace.'* And where now is she, the
Mistress of the World ? The spider weaves her web in her
palaces, the owl sings his watch-song in her towers. Teutonic
power now lords it over the servile remnant, the miserable
memento of old and once omnipotent Rome. Sad, very sad, are
the lessons which time has written for us. Through and in them
all I see nothing but the inflexible execution of that old law,
which ordains, as eternal, that cardinal rule, " Thou shalt not
covet thy neighbor's goods, nor anything which is his.'* Since
I have lately heard so much about the dismemberment of Mex-
ico, I have looked back, to see how, in the course of events
which some call "Providence,* it has fared with other nations
who engaged in this work of dismemberment. I see that in the
latter half of the eighteenth century, three powerful nations —
Russia, Austria, and Prussia — united in the dismemberment of
Poland. They said, too, as you say, " It is our destiny.'* They



j80 THOMAS CORWIN

« wanted room." Doubtless each of these thought, with his share
of Poland, his power was too strong ever to fear invasion, oi
even insult. One had his California, another his New Mexico,
and the third his Vera Cruz. Did they remain untouched and
incapable of harm ? Alas, no ! Far, very far, from it ! Retrib-
utive justice must fulfill its « destiny, >^ too. A very few years
pass, and we hear of a new man, a Corsican lieutenant, the self-
named " armed soldier of Democracy *^ — Napoleon. He ravages
Austria, covers her land with blood, drives the Northern Caesar
from his capital, and sleeps in his palace. Austria may now
remember how her power trampled upon Poland. Did she not
pay dear, very dear, for her California ?

But has Prussia no atonement to make ? You see this same
Napoleon, the blind instrument of Providence, at work there.
The thunders of his cannon at Jena proclaim the work of retri-
bution for Poland's wrongs; and the successors of the great
Frederick, the drill-sergeant of Europe, are seen flying across
the sandy plain that surrounds their capital, right glad if they
may escape captivity or death. But how fares it with the auto-
crat of Russia ? Is he secure in his share of the spoils of
Poland ? No. Suddenly we see, sir, six hundred thousand armed
men marching to Moscow. Does his Vera Cruz protect him
now ? Far from it. Blood, slaughter, desolation spread abroad
over the land, and finally the conflagration of the old com-
mercial metropolis of Russia closes the retribution; she must
pay for her share in the dismemberment of her weak and im-
potent neighbor. Mr. President, a mind more prone to look
for the judgments of heaven in the doings of men, than mine,
cannot fail in this to see the Providence of God. When Mos-
cow burned, it seemed as if the earth was lighted up that the
nations might behold the scene. As that mighty sea of fire
gathered and heaved, and rolled upwards, higher and yet higher,
till its flames aspired the stars and Ut the whole heavens, it did
seem as though the God of nations was writing, in characters
of flame on the front of his throne, the doom that shall fall
upon the strong nation, which tramples in scorn upon the weak.
And what fortune awaits him, the appointed executor of this
work, when it was all done ? He, too, conceived the notion that
his ** destiny* pointed onward to universal dominion. France
was too small — Europe, he thought, should bow down before
him. But as soon as this idea took possession of his soul, he,



THOMAS CORWIN l8l

too, became powerless. His terminus must recede, too. Right
there, while he witnessed the humiliation, and doubtless medi-
tated the subjugation of Russia, he who holds the winds in his
fist, gathered the snows of the North and blew them upon his
six hundred thousand men. They fled — they froze — they per-
ished! and now the mighty Napoleon, who had resolved on uni-
versal dominion — he, too, is summoned to answer for the violation
of that ancient law, ^*Thou shalt not covet anything which is
thy neighbor's.^* How is the mighty fallen! He, beneath whose
proud footstep Europe trembled, — he is now an exile at Elba,
and now finally a prisoner on the rock of St. Helena. And
there, on a barren island, in an unfrequented sea in the crater
of an extinguished volcano, — there is the deathbed of the
mighty conqueror! All his annexations have come to that! His
last hour is now come, and he, ^Hhe Man of Destiny**; he who
had rocked the world as with the throes of an earthquake, is
now powerless and still. Even as the beggar dies, so he died.
On the wings of a tempest that raged with unwonted fury, up
to the throne of the only power that controlled him while he
lived, went the fiery soul of that wonderful warrior, another wit-
ness to the existence of that eternal decree that they who do
not rule in righteousness shall perish from the earth. He has
found *<room** at last. And France, — she, too, has found ^*room.**
Her ^* eagles** now no longer scream upon the banks of the
Danube, the Po, and the Borysthenes. They have returned
home to their old eyrie between the Alps, the Rhine, and the
Pyrenees; so shall it be with your banners of conquest. You
may carry them to the loftiest peaks of the Cordilleras, they
may wave with insolent triumph in the Halls of the Montezumas,
the armed men of Mexico may quail before them, but the weak-
est hand in Mexico, uplifted in prayer to the God of justice, may
call down against you a Power, in the presence of which the iron
hearts of your warriors shall be turned into ashes.

Mr. President, if the history of our race has established any
truth, it is but a confirmation of what is written, ^'^ The way of
the transgressor is hard.** Inordinate ambition, wantoning in
power, and spurning the humble maxims of justice ever has
ended and ever shall end in ruin. Strength cannot always tram-
ple upon weakness; the humble shall be exalted; the bowed down
will at length be lifted up. It is by faith in the law of strict
justice, and the practice of its precepts, that nations alone can be



jg2 THOMAS CORWIN

saved. All the annals of the human race, sacred and profane,
are written over with this great truth in characters of living
light. It is my fear, my fixed belief, that in this invasion, this
war with Mexico, we have forgotten this vital truth. Why is it
that we have been drawn into this whirlpool of war ? How clear
and strong was the light that shone upon the path of duty a
year ago! The last disturbing question with England was set-
tled. Our power extended its peaceful sway from the Atlantic
to the Pacific: from the Alleghanies we looked out upon Europe,
and from the tops of the Stony Mountains we could descry the
shores of Asia; a rich commerce with all the nations of Europe
poured wealth and abundance into our lap on the Atlantic side,
while an unoccupied commerce of three hundred millions of
Asiatics waited on the Pacific for our enterprise to come and
possess it. One hundred millions of dollars will be wasted in
this fruitless war. Had this money of the people been expended
in making a railroad from your northern lakes to the Pacific, as
one of your citizens has begged of you in vain, you would have
made a highway for the world between Asia and Europe. Your
Capital then would be within thirty or forty days travel of any
and every point on the map of the civilized world. Through this
great artery of trade you would have carried through the heart
of your own country the teas of China and the spices of India to
the markets of England and France. Why, why, Mr. President,
did we abandon the enterprises of peace and betake ourselves to
the barbarous achievements of war ? Why did we *^ forsake this
fair and fertile field to batten on that moor '^ ?

But, Mr. President, if further acquisition of territory is to be
the result either of conquest or treaty, then I scarcely knov/
which should be preferred, external war with Mexico, or the haz-
ards of internal commotion at home, which last I fear may come
if another province is to be added to our territory. There is
one topic connected with this subject which I tremble when I
approach, and yet I cannot forbear to notice it. It meets you in
every step you take; it threatens you which way soever you go
in the prosecution of this war. I allude to the question of slav-
ery. Opposition to its further extension, it must be obvious to
every one, is a deeply-rooted determination with men of all par-
ties in what we call the non-slaveholding States. New York,
Pennsylvania, and Ohio, three of the most powerful, have already
sent their legislative instructions here. So it will be, I doubt



THOMAS CORWIN jg-,

not, in all the rest. It is vain now to speculate about the rea-
sons for this. Gentlemen of the South may call it prejudice,
passion, hypocrisy, fanaticism. I shall not dispute with them
now on that point. The great fact that it is so, and not other-
wise, is what it concerns us to know. You and I cannot alter
or change this opinion, if we would. These people only say, we
will not, cannot consent that you shall carry slavery where it
does not already exist. They do not seek to disturb you in that
institution, as it exists in your States. Enjoy it if you will, and
as you will. This is their language; this their determination.
How is it in the South ? Can it be expected that they should
expend in common, their blood and their treasure, in the acqui-
sition of immense territory, and then willingly forego the right
to carry thither their slaves, and inhabit the conquered country
if they please to do so ? Sir, I know the feelings and opinions
of the South too well to calculate on this. Nay, I believe they
would even contend to any extremity for the mere right, had
they no wish to exert it. I believe (and I confess I tremble
when the conviction presses upon me) that there is equal obsti-
nacy on both sides of this fearful question. If, then, we persist
in war, which, if it terminates in anything short of a mere wan-
ton waste of blood as well as money, must end (as this bill pro-
poses) in the acquisition of territory, to which at once this
controversy must attach — this bill would seem to be nothing
less than a bill to produce internal commotion. Should we
prosecute this war another moment, or expend one dollar in the
purchase or conquest of a single acre of Mexican land, the North
and the South are brought into collision on a point where
neither will yield. Who can foresee or foretell the result! Who
so bold or reckless as to look such a conflict in the face un-
moved! I do not envy the heart of him who can realize the
possibility of such a conflict without emotions too painful to be
endured. Why, then, shall we, the representatives of the sover-
eign States of this Union — the chosen guardians of this confed-
erated Republic, why should we precipitate this fearful struggle,
by continuing a war, the result of which must be to force us at
once upon a civil conflict ? Sir, rightly considered, this is trea-
son, treason to the Union, treason to the dearest interests, the
loftiest aspirations, the most cherished hopes of our constituents.
It is a crime to risk the possibility of such a contest. It is a
crime of such infernal hue, that every other in the catalogue ci



o THOMAS CORWIN

iniquity, when compared with it, whitens into virtue. Oh, Mr.
President, it does seem to me, if hell itself could yawn and
vomit up the fiends that inhabit its penal abodes, commissioned
to disturb the harmony of this world, and dash the fairest pros-
pect of happiness that ever allured the hopes of men, the first
step in the consummation of this diabolical purpose would be, to
light up the fires of internal war, and plunge the sister States
of this Union into the bottomless gulf of civil strife. We stand
this day on the crumbling brink of that gulf — we see its bloody
eddies wheeling and boiling before us — shall we not pause



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 17 of 39)