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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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 3 of 39)
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if bad, are fraught with the most dangerous consequences. Man
has been described, by some of those who have treated of his
nature, as a bundle of habits. The definition is much truer when
applied to governments. Precedents are their habits. There is
one important difference between the formation of habits by an
individual and by governments. He contracts only after frequent
repetition. A single instance fixes the habit and determines the
direction of governments. Against the alarming doctrine of un-
limited discretion in our military commanders when applied even
to prisoners of war, I must enter my protest. It begins upon
them; it will end on us. I hope our happy form of government
is to be perpetual. But, if it is to be preserved, it must be by
the practice of virtue, by justice, by moderation, by magnanimity,
by greatness of soul, by keeping a watchful and steady eye on
the executive; and, above all, by holding to a strict account^
ability the military branch of the public force.

We are fighting a great moral battle for the benefit not only
of our country, but of all mankind. The eyes of the whole world
are in fixed attention upon us. One, and the largest portion of
it, is gazing with contempt, with jealousy, and with envy; the
other portion, with hope, with confidence, and with affection.
Everywhere the black cloud of legitimacy is suspended over the
world, save only one bright spot, which breaks out from the po-
litical hemisphere of the west, to enlighten and animate and
gladden the human heart. Obscure that by the downfall of lib-
erty here, and all mankind are enshrouded in a pall of universal
darkness. To you, Mr. Chairman, belongs the high privilege of
transmitting, unimpaired, to posterity the fair character and lib-
erty of our country. Do you expect to execute this high trust
by trampling, or suffering to be trampled down, law, justice, the
Constitution, and the rights of the people ? by exhibiting exam-
ples of inhumanity and cruelty and ambition ? When the minions
of despotism heard, in Europe, of the seizure of Pensacola, how
did they chuckle, and chide the admirers of our institutions,
tauntingly pointing to the demonstration of a spirit of injustice
and aggrandizement made by our country, in the midst of an
amicable negotiation! Behold, said they, the conduct of those


who are constantly reproaching kings! You saw how those ad-
mirers were astounded and hung their heads. You saw, too,
when that illustrious man, who presides over us, adopted his pa-
cific, moderate, and just course, how they once more lifted up
their heads with exultation and delight beaming in their counte-
nances. And you saw how those minions themselves were finally
compelled to unite in the general praises bestowed upon our
government. Beware how you forfeit this exalted character.
Beware how you give a fatal sanction, in this infant period of
our Republic, scarcely yet two-score years old, to military insub-
ordination. Remember that Greece had her Alexander, Rome
her Caesar, England her Cromwell, France her Bonaparte, and
that if we would escape the rock on which they split we must
avoid their errors.

How different has been the treatment of General Jackson and
that modest, but heroic young man, a native of one of the
smallest States in the Union, who achieved for his country, on
Lake Erie, one of the most glorious victories of the late war.
In a moment of passion he forgot himself and offered an act of
violence which was repented of as soon as perpetrated. He was
tried, and suffered the judgment to be pronounced by his peers.
Public justice was thought not even then to be satisfied. The
press and Congress took up the subject. My honorable friend
from Virginia, Mr. Johnson, the faithful and consistent sentinel
of the law and of the Constitution, disapproved in that instance,
as he does in this, and moved an inquiry. The public mind
remained agitated and unappeased until the recent atonement so
honorably made by the gallant commodore. And is there to be
a distinction between the officers of the two branches of the pub-
lic service ? Are former services, however eminent, to preclude
even inquiry into recent misconduct ? Is there to be no limit, no
prudential bounds to the national gratitude ? I am not disposed
to censure the President for not ordering a court of inquiry, or
a general court-martial. Perhaps, impelled by a sense of grati-
tude, he determined, by anticipation, to extend to the general
that pardon which he had the undoubted right to grant after
sentence. Let us not shrink from out duty. Let us assert our
constitutional powers, and vindicate the instrument from military

I hope gentlemen will deliberately survey the awful isthmus
on which we stand. They may bear down all opposition; they


may even vote the general the public thanks; they may carr)r
him triumphantly through this House. But, if they do, in my
humble judgment, it will be a triumph of the principle of insub-
ordination, a triumph of the military over the civil authority, a
triumph over the powers of this House, a triumph over the Con-
stitution of the land. And I pray most devoutly to Heaven that
it may not prove, in its ultimate effects and consequences, a tri-
umph over the liberties of the people.

(From the Speech Delivered March 24th, 1818, in the House of Representatives)

I RISE under feelings of deeper regret than I have ever ex-
perienced on any former occasion, inspired principally by the

consideration that I find myself, on the proposition which I
meant to submit, differing from many highly esteemed friends,
in and out of this House, for whose judgment I entertained the
greatest respect. A knowledge of this circumstance has induced
me to pause; to subject my own convictions to the severest
scrutiny, and to revolve the question over and over again. But
all my reflections have conducted me to the same clear result;
and, much as I value those friends, great as my deference is for
their opinions, I cannot hesitate, when reduced to the distressing
alternative of conforming my judgment to theirs, or pursuing the
deliberate and mature dictates of my own mind. I enjoy some
consolation for the want of their co-operation, from the persua-
sion that, if I err on this occasion, I err on the side of the
liberty and happiness of a large portion of the human family.
Another, and, if possible, indeed a greater source of the regret to
which I refer is the utter incompetency which I unfeignedly
feel to do anything like adequate justice to the great cause of
American independence and freedom, whose interests I wish to
promote by my humble exertions in this instance. Exhausted
and worn down as I am, by the fatigue, confinement, and in-
cessant application incident to the arduous duties of the honor-
able station I hold, during a four months' session, I shall need
all that kind indulgence which has been so often extended to me
by the House.

I beg, in the first place, to correct misconceptions, if any
exist, in regard to my opinions. I am averse to war with Spain,


or with any power. I would give no just cause of war to any
power — not to Spain herself. I have seen enough of war, and of
its calamities, even when successful. No country on earth has
more interest than this in cultivating peace and avoiding war, as
long as it is possible honorably to avoid it. Gaining additional
strength every day; our numbers doubling in periods of twenty-
five years; with an income outstripping all our estimates, and so
great, as, after a war in some respects disastrous, to furnish
results which carry astonishment, if not dismay, into the bosom
of States jealous of our rising importance; we have every motive
for the love of peace. I cannot, however, approve in all respects
of the manner in which our negotiations with Spain have been
conducted. If ever a favorable time existed for the demand, on
the part of an injured nation, of indemnity for past wrongs from
the aggressor, such is the present time. Impoverished and ex-
hausted at home, by the wars which have desolated the penin-
sula; with a foreign war, calling for infinitely more resources, in
men and money, than she can possibly command; this is the
auspicious period for insisting upon justice at her hands in a
firm and decided tone. Time is precisely what Spain now wants.
Yet what are we told by the President, in his message at the
commencement of Congress ? That Spain has procrastinated,
and we acquiesced in her procrastination. And the Secretary of
State, in a late communication with Mr, Onis, after ably vindi-
cating all our rights, tells the Spanish minister, with a good deal
of sang-froid, that we had patiently waited thirteen years for a
redress of our injuries, and that it required no great effort to
wait longer. I would have abstained from thus exposing our
intentions. Avoiding the use of the language of menace, I would
have required, in temperate and decided terms, indemnity for all
our wrongs; for the spoliations of our commerce; for the inter-
ruption for the right of depot at New Orleans, guaranteed by
treaty; for the insults repeatedly offered to our flag; for the
Indian hostilities, which she was bound to prevent; for bellig-
erent use of her ports and territories by our enemy during the
late war; and the instantaneous liberation of the free citizens of
the United States, now imprisoned in her jails. Contemporane-
ously with that demand, without waiting for her final answer, and
with a view to the favorable operation on her councils in regard
to our own peculiar interests, as well as in justice to the cause
itself, I would recognize any established government in Spanish



America, I would have left Spain to draw her own inferences
from these proceedings as to the ultimate step which this coun-
try might adopt if she longer withheld justice from us. And if
she persevered in her iniquity, after we had conducted the ne-
gotiation in the manner I have endeavored to describe, I would
then take up and decide the solemn question of peace or war,
with the advantage of all the light shed upon it, by subsequent
events, and the probable conduct of Europe.

Spain has undoubtedly given us abundant and just cause for
war. But it is not every cause of war that should lead to war.
War is one of those dreadful scourges that so shakes the foun-
dation of society, overturns or changes the character of govern-
ments, interrupts or destroys the pursuits of private happiness,
brings, in short, misery and wretchedness in so many forms, and
at last is, in its issue, so doubtful and hazardous, that nothing
but dire necessity can justify an appeal to arms. If we are to
have war with Spain, I have, however, no hesitation in saying
that no mode of bringing it about could be less fortunate than
that of seizing, at this time, upon her adjoining province. There
was a time, under certain circumstances, when we might have
occupied East Florida with safety; had we then taken it, our
posture in the negotiation with Spain would have been totally
different from what it is. But we have permitted that time, not
with my consent, to pass by unimproved. If we were now to
seize upon Florida, after a great change in those circumstances,
and after declaring our intention to acquiesce in the procrastina-
tion desired by Spain, in what light should we be viewed by
foreign powers, particularly Great Britain ? We have already
been accused of inordinate ambition, and of seeking to aggran-
dize ourselves by an extension, on all sides, of our limits. Should
we not, by such an act of violence, give color to the accusation ?
No, Mr. Chairman; if we are to be involved in a war with
Spain, let us have the credit of disinterestedness. Let us put her
yet more in the wrong. Let us command the respect which is
never withheld from those who act a noble and generous part.
I hope to communicate to the committee the conviction which I
so strongly feel, that the adoption of the amendment which I
intend to propose would not hazard, in the slightest degree, the
peace of the country. But if that peace is to be endangered, I
would infinitely rather it should be for our exerting the right
appertaining to every State, of acknowledging the independence



of another State, than for the seizure of a province, which, sooner
or later, we must acquire.

In contemplating the great struggle in which Spanish America
is now engaged, our attention is fixed first by the immensity and
character of the country which Spain seeks again to subjugate.
Stretching on the Pacific Ocean from about the fortieth degree
of north latitude to about the fifty-fifth degree of south latitude,
and extending from the mouth of the Rio del Norte (exclusive
of East Florida), around the Gulf of Mexico and along the South
Atlantic to near Cape Horn, it is about five thousand miles in
length, and in some places nearly three thousand in breadth.
Within this vast region we behold the most sublime and inter-
esting objects of creation, the richest mines of the precious
metals, and the choicest productions of the earth. We behold
there a spectacle still more interesting and sublime — the glori-
ous spectacle of eighteen millions of people struggling to burst
their chains and to be free. When we take a little nearer and
more detailed view, we perceive that nature has, as it were, or-
dained that this people and this country shall ultimately consti-
tute several different nations. Leaving the United States on the
north, we come to New Spain, or the viceroyalty of Mexico on
the south; passing by Guatemala, we reach the viceroyalty of
New Grenada, the late captain-generalship of Venezuela, and
Guiana, lying on the east side of the Andes. Stepping over the
Brazils, we arrive at the united provinces of La Plata, and cross-
ing the Andes we find Chili on their west side, and, fu.'ther
north, the viceroyalty of Lima, or Peru. Each of these several
parts is sufficient in itself in point of limits to constitute a pow-
erful state; and, in point of population, that which has the small-
est contains enough to make it respectable. Throughout all the
extent of that great portion of the world which I have attempted
thus hastily to describe, the spirit of revolt against the dominion
of Spain has manifested itself. The revolution has been attended
with various degrees of success in the several parts of Spanish
America. In some it has been already crowned, as I shall en-
deavor to show, with complete success, and in all I am persuaded
that independence has struck such deep root, that the power of
Spain can never eradicate it. What are the causes of this great
movement ?

Three hundred years ago, upon the ruins of the thrones
of Montezuma and the Incas of Peru, Spain erected the most
ri — 3



stupendous system of colonial despotism that the world has ever
seen — the most vigorous, the most exclusive. The great princi-
ple and object of this system have been to render one of the
largest portions of the world exclusively subservient, in all its
faculties, to the interests of an inconsiderable spot in Europe.
To effectuate this aim of her policy, she locked up Spanish
America from all the rest of the world, and prohibited, under
the severest penalties, any foreigner from entering any part of
it. To keep the natives themselves ignorant of each other, and
of the strength and resources of the several parts of her Ameri-
can possessions, she next prohibited the inhabitants of one vice-
royalty or government from visiting those of another; so that
the inhabitants of Mexico, for example, were not allowed to enter
the viceroyalty of New Grenada. The agriculture of those vast
regions was so regulated and restrained as to prevent all colli-
sion with the agriculture of the peninsula. Where nature, by
the character and composition of the soil, has commanded, the
abominable system of Spain has forbidden, the growth of certain
articles. Thus the olive and the vine, to which Spanish America
is so well adapted, are prohibited, wherever their culture can in-
terfere with the olive and the vine of the peninsula. The com-
merce of the country, in the direction and objects of the exports
and imports, is also subjected to the narrow and selfish views of
Spain, and fettered by the odious spirit of monopoly, existing in
Cadiz, She has sought, by scattering discord among the several
castes, of her American population, and by a debasing course of
education, to perpetuate her oppression. Whatever concerns pub-
lic law, or the science of government, all writings upon political
economy, or that tend to give vigor and freedom and expansion
to the intellect, are prohibited. Gentlemen would be astonished
by the long list of distinguished authors, whom she proscribes, to
be found in Depon's and other works. A main feature in her
policy is that which constantly elevates the European and de-
presses the American character. Out of upwards of seven hun-
dred and fifty viceroys and captains-general, whom she has
appointed since the conquest of America, about eighteen only
have been from the body of her American population. On all
occasions, she seeks to raise and promote her European subjects,
and to degrade and humiliate the Creoles. Wherever in America
her sway extends, everything seems to pine and wither beneath
its baneful influence. The richest regions of the earth; man


his happiness and his education, all the fine faculties of his soul,
are regulated and modified and molded to suit the execrable
purposes of an inexorable despotism.

Such is the brief and imperfect picture of the state of things
in Spanish America, in 1808, when the famous transactions of
Bayonne occurred. The King of Spain and the Indies (for
Spanish America has always constituted an integral part of the
Spanish empire) abdicated his throne and became a voluntary
captive. Even at this day one does not know whether he should
most condemn the baseness and perfidy of the one party, or de-
spise the meanness and imbecility of the other. If the obliga-
tion of obedience and allegiance existed on the part of the
colonies to the King of Spain, it was founded on the duty of
protection which he owed them. By disqualifying himself for
the performance of this duty, they became released from that
obligation. The monarchy was dissolved, and each integral part
had a right to seek its own happiness by the institution of
any new government adapted to its wants. Joseph Bonaparte,
the successor de facto of Ferdinand, recognized this right on the
part of the colonies, and recommended them to establish their
independence. Thus, upon the ground of strict right; upon the
footing of a mere legal question, governed by forensic rules, the
colonies, being absolved by the acts of the parent country from
the duty of subjection to it, had an indisputable right to set up
for themselves. But I take a broader and a bolder position. I
maintain that an oppressed people are authorized, whenever they
can, to rise and break their fetters. This was the great principle
of the English revolution. It was the great principle of our own.
Vattel, if authority were wanting, expressly supports this right.
We must pass sentence of condemnation upon the founders of
our liberty, say that they were rebels, traitors, and that we are
at this moment legislating without competent powers, before we
can condemn the cause of Spanish America. Our revolution
was mainly directed against the mere theory of tyranny. We had
suffered but comparatively little; we had, in some respects, been
kindly treated; but our intrepid and intelligent fathers saw, in
the usurpation of the power to levy an inconsiderable tax, the
long train of oppressive acts that were to follow. They rose;
they breasted the storm; they achieved our freedom. Spanish
America for centuries has been doomed to the practical effects of
an odious tyranny. If we were justified, she is more than justified.


I am no propagandist. I would not seek to force upon
other nations our principles and our liberty, if they do not want
them. I would not disturb the repose even of a detestable des-
potism. But, if an abused and oppressed people will their free-
dom; if they seek to establish it; we have a right, as a sovereign
power, to notice the fact and to act as circumstances and our
interest require. I will say, in the language of the venerated
father of my country, " born in a land of liberty, my anxious re-
collections, my sympathetic feelings, and my best wishes, are ir-
resistibly excited, whensoever, in any country, I see an oppressed
nation unfurl the banners of freedom." Whenever I think of
Spanish America, the image irresistibly forces itself upon my
mind, of an elder brother, whose education has been neglected,
whose person has been abused and maltreated, and who has been
disinherited by the unkindness of an unnatural parent. And,
when I contemplate the glorious struggle which that country is
now making, I think I behold that brother rising, by the power
and energy of his fine native genius, to the manly rank which
nature, and nature's God, intended for him. . . .

In the establishment of the independence of Spanish America,
the United States have the deepest interest. I have no hesita-
tion in asserting my firm belief that there is no question in the
foreign policy of this country, which has ever arisen, or which I
can conceive as ever occurring, in the decision of which we have
had or can have so much at stake. This interest concerns our
politics, our commerce, our navigation. There cannot be a doubt
that Spanish America, once independent, whatever may be the
form of government established in its several parts, these govern-
ments will be animated by an American feeling, and guided by
an American policy. They will obey the laws of the system of
the new world, of which they will compose a part, in contradis-
tinction to that of Europe. Without the mfluence of that vortex
in Europe, the balance of power between its several parts, the
preservation of which has so often drenched Europe in blood,
America is sufficiently remote to contemplate the new wars
which are to afflict that quarter of the globe, as a calm if not a
cold and indifferent spectator. In relation to those wars, the
several parts of America will generally stand neutral. And as,
during the period when they rage, it will be important that a
liberal system of neutrality should be adopted and observed, all
America will be interested in maintaining and enforcing such a


system. The independence of Spanish America, then, is an
interest of primary consideration. Next to that, and highly im-
portant in itself, is the consideration of the nature of their gov-
ernments. That is a question, however, for themselves. They
will, no doubt, adopt those kinds of governments which are best
suited to their condition, best calculated for their happiness.
Anxious as I am that they should be free governments, we have
no right to prescribe for them. They are, and ought to be, the
sole judges for themselves. I am strongly inclined to believe
that they will in most, if not all parts of their country, establish
free governments. We are their great example. Of us they
constantly speak as of brothers, having a similar origin. They
adopt our principles, copy our institutions, and, in many in-
stances, employ the very language and sentiments of our revolu-
tionary papers:

"Having then been thus impelled by the Spaniards and their king,
we have calculated all the consequences, and have constituted our-
selves independent, prepared to exercise the right of nature to de-
fend ourselves against the ravages of tyranny, at the risk of our
honor, our lives, and fortune. "We have sworn to the only King we
acknowledge, the supreme judge of the world, that we will not
abandon the cause of justice; that we will not suffer the country
which he has given us, to be buried in ruins, and inundated with
blood, by the hands of the executioner, etc."

But it is sometimes said that they are too ignorant and too
superstitious to admit of the existence of free government. This
charge of ignorance is often urged by persons themselves actu-
ally ignorant of the real condition of that people. I deny the
alleged fact of ignorance; I deny the inference from that fact, if
it were true, that they want capacity for free government. And
I refuse assent to the further conclusion if the fact were true,

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 3 of 39)