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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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ain than he is lifted, by the serenity of his mind and the con-
sciousness of a well-spent life, above the malignant passions and
bitter feelings of the day. No! his own beloved Monticello is
not more moved by the storms that beat against its sides than
is this illustrious man by the howlings of the whole British pack
set loose from the Essex kennel! When the gentleman to whom



-^ig HENRY CLAY

I have been compelled to allude shall have mingled his dust with
that of his abused ancestors; when he shall have been consigned
to oblivion, or, if he lives at all, shall live only in the treasonable
annals of a certain junto, the name of Jefferson will be hailed
with gratitude, his memory honored and cherished as the second
founder of the liberties of the people, and the period of his ad-
ministration will be looked back to, as one of the happiest and
brightest epochs of American history — an oasis in the midst of
a sandy desert. But I beg the gentleman's pardon; he has in-
deed secured to himself a more imperishable fame than I had
supposed. I think it was about four years ago that he submitted
to the House of Representatives an initiative proposition for an
impeachment of Mr. Jefferson. The House condescended to con-
sider it. The gentleman debated it with his usual temper, mod-
eration, and urbanity. The House decided upon it in the most
solemn manner, and, although the gentleman had somehow ob-
tained a second, the final vote stood, one for, and one hundred
and seventeen against the proposition! The same historic page
that transmitted to posterity the virtue and the glory of Henry
the Great of France, for their admiration and example, has pre-
served the infamous name of the fanatic assassin of that excel-
lent monarch. The same sacred pen that portrayed the sufferings
and crucifixion of the Savior of mankind has recorded, for uni-
versal execration, the name of him who was guilty, not of be-
traying his country, but (a kindred crime!) of betraying his God.
In one respect there is a remarkable difference between the
administration and the opposition; it is in a sacred regard for
personal liberty. When out of power my political friends con-
demned the surrender of Jonathan Robbins; they opposed the
violation of the freedom of the press in the Sedition Law; they
opposed the more insidious attack upon the freedom of the per-
son under the imposing garb of an Alien Law. The party now in
opposition, then in power, advocated the sacrifice of the unhappy
Robbins, and passed those two laws. True to our principles, we
are now struggling for the liberty of our seamen against foreign
oppression. True to theirs, they oppose a war undertaken for
this object. They have, indeed, lately affected a tender solicitude
for the liberties of the people, and talk of the danger of standing
armies and the burden of taxes. But it must be evident to you,
Mr. Chairman, that they speak in a foreign idiom. Their brogue
evinces that it is not their vernacular tongue. What! the oppo-



HENRY CLAV 49

sition, who, in 1798 and 1799 could raise a useless army to fight
an enemy three thousand miles distant from us, alarmed at the
existence of one raised for a known and specified object — the
attack of the adjoining provinces of the enemy! What! the gen-
tleman from Massachusetts, who assisted by his vote to raise the
army of twenty-five thousand, alarmed at the danger of our liber-
ties from this very army! . . .

I omitted, yesterday, sir, when speaking of a delicate and
painful subject, to notice a powerful engine which the conspira
tors against the integrity of the Union employ to effect theii
nefarious purposes — I mean Southern influence. The true friend
to his country, knowing that our Constitution was the work of
compromise, in which interests, apparently conflicting, were at-
tempted to be reconciled, aims to extinguish or allay prejudices.
But this patriotic exertion does not suit the views of those who
are urged on by diabolical ambition. They find it convenient to
imagine the existence of certain improper influences, and to
propagate, with their utmost industry, a belief of them. Hence
the idea of Southern preponderance; Virginia influence; the yok-
ing of the respectable yeomanry of the North, with negro slaves,
to the car of Southern nabobs. If Virginia really cherishes a
reprehensible ambition, an aim to monopolize the chief magis-
tracy of the country, how is such a purpose to be accomplished ?
Virginia, alone, cannot elect a President, whose elevation depends
upon a plurality of electoral votes, and a consequent concurrence
of many States. Would Vermont, disinterested Pennsylvania,
the Carolinas, independent Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio,
Louisiana, all consent to become the tools of inordinate ambi-
tion ? But the present incumbent was designated to the office
before his predecessor had retired. How ? By public sentiment,
— public sentiment which grew out of his known virtues, his
illustrious services, and his distinguished abilities. Would the
gentleman crush this public sentiment, — is he prepared to admit
that he would arrest the progress of opinion ?

The war was declared because Great Britain arrogated to her-
self the pretension of regulating our foreign trade, under the
delusive name of retaliatory orders in council, — a pretension by
which she undertook to proclaim to American enterprise, — " Thus
far shalt thou go, and no farther,'^ — orders which she refused
to revoke after the alleged cause of their enactment had ceased;
because she persisted in the practice of impressing American
4 -4



§6 HENRY CLA'i?'

seamen; because she had instigated the Indians to commit hos-
tilities ao-ainst us; and because she refused indemnity for her
past injuries upon our commerce. I throw out of the question
other wrongs. The war in fact was announced, on our part, to
meet the war which she was waging on her part. So undeniable
were the causes of the war, so powerfully did they address them-
selves to the feehngs of the whole American people, that when
the bill was pending before this House, gentlemen in the oppo-
sition, although provoked to debate, would not, or could not, utter
one syllable against it. . . .

We are told by gentlemen in the opposition that Government
has not done all that was incumbent on it to do to avoid just
cause of complaint on the part of Great Britain; that, in particu-
lar, the certificates of protection, authorized by the act of 1796,
are fraudulently used. Sir, Government has done too much in
granting those paper protections. I can never think of them
without being shocked. They resemble the passes which the
master grants to his negro slave — ^* Let the bearer, Mungo, pass
and repass without molestation.'^ What do they imply? That
Great Britain has a right to seize all who are not provided with
them. From their very nature they must be liable to abuse on
both sides. If Great Britain desires a mark by which she can
know her own subjects, let her give them an ear-mark. The
colors that float from the masthead should be the credentials
of our seamen. There is no safety to us, and the gentlemen
have shown it, but in the rule that all who sail under the flag
(not being enemies) are protected by the flag. It is impossible
that this country should ever abandon the gallant tars who have
won for us such splendid trophies. Let me suppose that the
genius of Columbia should visit one of them in his oppressor's
prison and attempt to reconcile him to his forlorn and wretched
condition. She would say to him, in the language of gentlemen
on the other side : " Great Britain intends you no harm ; she did
not mean to impress j^ou, but one of her own subjects; having
taken you by mistake, I will remonstrate, and try to prevail upon
her by peaceable means to release you; but I cannot, my son,
fight for you.'* If he did not consider this mere mocker}^ the
poor tar would address her judgment and say: ^* You owe me.
my country, protection; I owe you in return obedience. I am
no British subject, I am a native of old Massachusetts, where
live my aged father, my wife, my children. I have faithfully



HENRY CLAY 0-^

discharged my duty. Will you refuse to do yours ? '^ Appealing
to her passions, he would continue : ^* I lost this eye in fighting
under Truxton with the Insurgente; I got this scar before Trip-
oli; I broke this leg on board the Constitution when the Guer-
riere struck.'^ If she remained still unmoved, he would break out
in the accents of mingled distress and despair: —

**Hard, hard is my fate! once I freedom enjoyed,
Was as happy as happy could be!
Oh! how hard is my fate, how galling these chains!*

I will not imagine the dreadful catastrophe to which he would
be driven by an abandonment of him to his oppressor. It will
not be, it cannot be, that his country will refuse him protec-
tion. . . .

An honorable peace is attainable only by an efficient war.
My plan would be to call out the ample resources of the country,
give them a judicious direction, prosecute the war with the ut-
most vigor, strike wherever we can reach the enemy, at sea or
on land, and negotiate the terms of a peace at Quebec or at
Halifax.

We are told that England is a proud and lofty nation, which,
disdaining to wait for danger, meets it half way. Haughty as
she is, we once triumphed over her, and, if we do not listen to
the counsels of timidity and despair, we shall again prevail. In
such a cause, with the aid of Providence, we must come out
crowned with success; but if we fail, let us fail like men, lash
ourselves to our gallant tars, and expire together in one common
struggle, fighting for free trade and seamen's rights.



THE GREEK REVOLUTION

(From the Speech of January 20th, 1824, in the House of Representatives,

Supporting the Webster Resolution)

THERE is reason to apprehend that a tremendous storm is ready
to burst upon our happy country — one which may call into
action all our vigor, courage, and resources. Is it wise or
prudent, in preparing to breast the storm, if it must come, to
talk to this nation of its incompetency to repel European aggres-
sion, to lower its spirit, to weaken its moral energy, and to
qualify it for easy conquest and base submission ? If there be



52



HENRY CLAY



any reality in the dangers which are supposed to encompass us,
should we not animate the people, and adjure them to believe,
as I do, that our resources are ample; and that we can bring
into the field a million of freemen, ready to exhaust their last
drop of blood, and to spend the last cent in the defense of the
country, its liberty, and its institutions ? Sir, are these, if united,
to be conquered by all Europe combined ? All the perils to
which we can possibly be exposed are much less in reality than
the imagination is disposed to paint them. And they are best
averted by an habitual contemplation of them, by reducing them
to their true dimensions. If combined Europe is to precipitate
itself upon us, we cannot too soon begin to invigorate our
strength, to teach our heads to think, our hearts to conceive, and
our arms to execute, the high and noble deeds which belong to
the character and glory of our country. The experience of the
world instructs us that conquests are already achieved, which are
boldly and firmly resolved on, and that men only become slaves
who have ceased to resolve to be free. If we wish to cover our-
selves with the best of all armor, let us not discourage our peo-
ple, let us stimulate their ardor, let us sustain their resolution, let
us proclaim to them that we feel as they feel, and that, with
them, we are determined to live or die like freemen.

Surely, sir, we need no long or learned lectures about the nat-
ure of government and the influence of property or ranks on
society. We may content ourselves with studying the true char-
acter of our own people and with knowing that the interests
are confided to us of a nation capable of doing and suffering all
things for its liberty. Such a nation, if its rulers be faithful,
must be invincible. I well remember an observation made to
me by the most illustrious female* of the age, if not of her sex.
All history showed, she said, that a nation was never conquered.
No, sir, no united nation that resolves to be free can be con-
quered. And has it come to this ? Are we so humbled, so low,
so debased, that we dare not express our sympathy for suffering
Greece, that we dare not articulate our detestation of the brutal
excesses of which she has been the bleeding victim, lest we
might offend some one or more of their imperial and royal maj-
esties ? If gentlemen are afraid to act rashly on such a subject,
suppose, Mr. Chairman, that we unite in an humble petition, ad-
dressed to their majesties, beseeching them that of their gracious

* Madame de Stael.



HENRY CLAY 53

condescension they would allow us to express our feelings and
our sympathies. How shall it run ? " We, the representatives of
the free people of the United States of America, humbly ap-
proach the thrones of your imperial and royal majesties, and
supplicate that, of your imperial and royal clemency,*^ — I cannot
go through the disgusting recital — my lips have not yet learned
to pronounce the sycophantic language of a deo-raded slave! Are
we so mean, so base, so despicable, that we may not attempt to
express our horror — to utter our indignation, at the most brutal
and atrocious war that ever stained earth or shocked high heaven;
at the ferocious deeds of a savage and infuriated soldiery, stimu-
lated and urged on by the clergy of a fanatical and inimical re-
ligion, and rioting in all the excesses of blood and butchery, at
the mere details of which the heart sickens and recoils!

If the great body of Christendom can look on calmly and
coolly, whilst all this is perpetrated on a Christian people, in its
own immediate vicinity, in its very presence, let us at least
evince that one of its remote extremities is susceptible of sensi-
bility to Christian wrongs, and capable of sympathy for Christian
sufferings; that in this remote quarter of the world there are
hearts not yet closed against compassion for human woes, that
can pour out their indignant feelings at the oppression of a peo-
ple endeared to us by every ancient recollection, and every mod-
ern tie. . . .

But, sir, it is not for Greece alone that I desire to see this
measure adopted. It will give to her but little support, and that
purely of a moral kind. It is principally for America, for the
credit and character of our common country, for our own un-
sullied name, that I hope to see it pass. Mr. Chairman, what
appearance on the page of history would a record like this ex-
hibit ? ^^ In the month of January, in the year of our Lord and
Savior 1824, while all European Christendom beheld, with cold
and unfeeling indifference, the unexampled wrongs and inex-
pressible misery of Christian Greece, a proposition was made in
the Congress of the United States, almost the sole, the last, the
greatest depository of human hope and human freedom, the rep-
resentatives of a gallant nation, containing a million of freemen
ready to fly to arms, while the people of that nation were spon-
taneously expressing its deep-toned feeling, and the whole conti-
nent, by one simultaneous emotion, was rising, and solemnly and
anxiously supplicating and invoking high heaven to spare and



H. HENRY CLAY

succor Greece, and to invigorate her arms, in her glorious cause,
while temples and senate houses were alike resounding with one
burst of generous and holy sympathy; — in the year of our Lord
and Savior, that Savior of Greece and of us— a proposition was
ofEered in the American Congress to send a messenger to Greece
to inquire into her state and condition, with a kind expression of
our good wishes and our sympathies — and it was rejected !^^ Go
home, if you can, go home, if you dare, to your constituents, and
tell them that you voted it down; meet, if you can, the appall-
ing countenances of those who sent you here, and tell them that
you shrank from the declaration of your own sentiments — that
you cannot tell how, but that some unknown dread, some in-
describable apprehension, some indefinable danger, drove you
from your purpose — that the spectres of scimeters and crowns
and crescents gleamed before you and alarmed you; and that
you suppressed all the noble feelings prompted by religion, by
liberty, by national independence, and by humanity. I cannot
bring myself to believe that such will be the feeling of a ma-
jority of the committee. But, for myself, though every friend of
the cause should desert it, and I be left to stand alone with the
gentleman from Massachusetts, I will give to his resolution the
poor sanction of my unqualified approbation.



THE NOBLEST PUBLIC VIRTUE

(Replying to Mr. Rives in the United States Senate, August igth, 1841.
Once Described by Mr. Clay Himself as His Most Effective Passage)

I ROSE not to say one word which should wound the feelings of
President Tyler. The Senate says that, if placed in like cir-
cumstances, I would have been the last man to avoid putting
a direct veto upon the bill, had it met my disapprobation; and
he does me the honor to attribute to me high qualities of stem
and unbending intrepidity. I hope that in all that relates to
personal firmness, all that concerns a just appreciation of the
insignificance of human life — whatever may be attempted to
threaten or alarm a soul not easily swayed by opposition, or
awed or intimidated by menace — a stout heart and a steady eye,
that can survey, unmoved and undaunted, any mere personal
perils that assail this poor, transient, perishing frame, I may,
without disparagement, compare with other men. But there is a



HENRY CLAY 55

sort of courage, which, I frankly confess it, I do not possess, a
boldness to which I dare not aspire, a valor which I cannot
covet. I cannot lay myself down in the way of the welfare and
happiness of my country. That I cannot, I have not the cour-
age to do. I cannot interpose the power with which I may be
invested, a power conferred not for my personal benefit, nor for
my aggrandizement, but for my country's good, to check her
onward march to greatness and glory. I have not courage
enough, I am too cowardly for that. I would not, I dare not, in
the exercise of such a trust, lie down and place my body across
the path that leads my country to prosperity and happiness.
This is a sort of courage widely different from that which a
man may display in his private conduct and personal relations.
Personal or private courage is totally distinct from that higher
and nobler courage which prompts the patriot to offer himself a
voluntary sacrifice to his country's good.

Nor did I say, as the Senator represents, that the President
should have resigned. I intimated no personal wish or desire
that he should resign. I referred to the fact of a memorable
resignation in his public life. And what I did say was, that
there were other alternatives before him besides vetoing the bill,
and that it was worthy of his consideration whether consistency
did not require that the example which he had set when he had
a constituency of one State should not be followed when he
had a constituency commensurate with the whole Union. An-
other alternative was to suffer the bill, without his signature, to
pass into a law under the provisions of the Constitution. And I
must confess, I see, in this, no such escaping by the back door,
no such jumping out of the window, as the Senator talks about.

Apprehensions of the imputation of the want of firmness some-
times impel us to perform rash and inconsiderate acts. It is the
greatest courage to be able to bear the imputation of the want
of courage. But pride, vanity, egotism, so unamiable and offen-
sive in private life, are vices which partake of the character of
crimes in the conduct of public affairs. The unfortunate victim
of these passions cannot see beyond the little, petty, contemptible
circle of his own personal interests. All his thoughts are with-
drawn from his country and concentrated on his consistency, his
firmness, himself. The high, the exalted, the sublime emotions
of a patriotism, which, soaring toward heaven, rises far above
all mean, low, or selfish things, and is absorbed by one soul-



56 HENRY CLAY

transporting thought of the good and the glory of one's country,
are never felt in his impenetrable bosom. That patriotism, which,
catching its inspirations from the immortal God, and leaving at
an immeasurable distance below all lesser, groveling, personal
interests and feelings, animates and prompts to deeds of self-
sacrifice, of valor, of devotion, and of death itself — that is public
virtue; that is the noblest, the sublimest of all oublic virtues!



SIXTY YEARS OF SECTIONALISM

(Closing Argument in Support of the Compromise of 1850, United States

Senate, February 6th, 1850)

Mr. Mangum having offered to make a motion to adjourn, Mr. Clay said:
«No, sir; no, sir; if the Senate will bear with me, I think I can go through
with it better to-day than I could to-morrow. >*

Mr. President: —

THIS Union is threatened with subversion. I desire to take
a very rapid glance at the course of public measures
in this Union presently. I wanted, however, before I did
that, to ask the Senate to look back upon the career which this
country has run from the adoption of the Constitution down to
the present day. Was there ever a nation upon which the sun
of heaven has shone which has exhibited so much of prosperity
as our own ? At the commencement of this Government, our
population amounted to about four millions. It has now reached
upwards of twenty millions. Our territory was limited chiefly
and principally to that bordering upon the Atlantic Ocean, and
that which includes the southern shores of the interior lakes of
our country. Our territory now extends from the northern prov-
inces of Great Britain to the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mex-
ico; from the Atlantic Ocean on the one side to the Pacific on
the other — the largest extent of territory under one government
existing upon earth, with only two solitary exceptions. Our ton-
nage, from being nothing, has risen to a magnitude and amount
to rival that of the nation which has been proudly called the
mistress of the ocean. We have gone through many wars; one
with that very nation from whom in 1776, we broke off, as weak
and feeble colonies, when we asserted our independence as a
member of the family of nations. And, sir, we came out of that



HENRY CLAY 57

Struggle — unequal as it was, armed as she was at all points in
consequence of the long struggles of Europe, and unarmed as
we were at all points, in consequence of the habits and nature
of our country and its institutions — we came out of that war
without the loss of any honor whatever; we emerged from it
gloriously. In every Indian war — we have been engaged in
many of them — our arms have been triumphant. And without
speaking at all as to the causes of the recent war with Mexico,
whether they were right or wrong, and abstaining from the ex-
pression of any opinion as to the justice or propriety of the war
when it commenced, all must unite in respect to the gallantry of
our arms and the glory of our triumphs. There is no page —
there are no pages of history which record more brilliant suc-
cesses. With respect to the one in command of an important
portion of our army, I need say nothing in praise of him who
has been borne by the voice of his country to the highest station
in it, mainly on account of his glorious military career. But of
another military commander, less fortunate in other respects, I
must take , the opportunity of saying that for skill, for science,
for strategy, for bold and daring fighting, for chivalry of indi-
viduals and of masses, that portion of the Mexican War which
was conducted by the gallant Scott, as chief commander, stands
unrivaled either by the deeds of Cortes himself or by those of
any other commander in ancient or modern times.

Our prosperity is unbounded. Nay, Mr. President, I some-
times fear that it is the very wantonness of our prosperity that
leads us to these threatening ills of the moment, that restlessness
and these erratic schemes throughout the whole country, some of
which have even found their way into legislative halls. We
want, I fear, the chastising wand of Heaven to bring us back to
a sense of the immeasurable benefits and blessings which have
been bestowed upon us by Providence. At this moment, with



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 5 of 39)