Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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under an overruling Providence which had so signally pro-
tected this country from the first, the representatives of this
nation, then consisting of little more than half its present
numbers, not only broke to pieces the chains which were
forging, and the rod of iron that was lifted up, but frankly
cut asunder the ties which had bound them, and launched
into an ocean of uncertainty.

The zeal and ardor of the people during the Revolution-
ary War, supplying the place of government, commanded
a degree of order sufficient, at least, for the temporary
preservation of society. The Confederation, which was
early felt to be necessary, was prepared from the models of
the Batavian and Helvetic confederacies, the only examples
which remain, with any detail and precision, in history, and
certainly the only ones which the people at large had ever
considered. But, reflecting on the striking difference, in
so many particulars, between this country and those where
a courier may go from the seat of government to the fron-
tier in a single day, it was then certainly foreseen by some,
who assisted in Congress at the formation of it, that it
could not be durable.

Negligence of its regulations, inattention to its recom-
mendations, if not disobedience to its authority, not only
in individuals, but in states, soon appeared with their mel-
ancholy consequences: universal languor, jealousies, rival-
ries of states, decline of navigation and commerce, discour-
agement of necessary manufactures, universal fall in the
value of lands and their produce, contempt of public and
private faith, loss of consideration and credit with foreign
nations; and, at length, in discontents, animosities, com-
binations, partial conventions, and insurrection, threatening
some great national calamity.

In this dangerous crisis the people of America were not
abandoned by their usual good sense, presence of mind,
resolution, or integrity. Measures were pursued to concert
a plan to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure
domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, pro-
mote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.
The public disquisitions, discussions, and deliberations
issued in the present happy constitution of government.

Employed in the service of my country abroad during


the whole course of these transactions, I first saw the Con-
stitution of the United States in a foreign country. Irri-
tated by no literary altercation, animated by no public
debate, heated by no party animosity, I read it with great
satisfaction, as the result of good heads, prompted by good
hearts; as an experiment better adapted to the genius,
character, situation, and relations of this nation and coun-
try than any which had ever been proposed or suggested.
In its general principles and great outlines, it was con-
formable to such a system of government as I had ever
most esteemed; and in some states, my own native state in
particular, had contributed to establish. Claiming a right
of suffrage in common with my fellow citizens in the adop-
tion or rejection of a constitution which was to rule me
and my posterity, as well as them and theirs, I did not hesi-
tate to express my approbation of it on all occasions, in
public and in private. It was not then nor has it been since
any objection to it, in my mind, that the Executive and
Senate were not more permanent. Nor have I entertained
a thought of promoting any alteration in it but such as the
people themselves, in the course of their experience, should
see and feel to be necessary or expedient, and by their rep-
resentatives in Congress and the state legislatures, accord-
ing to the Constitution itself, adopt and ordain.

Returning to the bosom of my country, after a painful
separation from it for ten years, I had the honor to be
elected to a station under the new order of things; and I
have repeatedly laid myself under the most serious obliga-
tions to support the Constitution. The operation of it has
equaled the most sanguine expectations of its friends; and
from a habitual attention to it, satisfaction in its adminis-
tration, and delight in its effects upon the peace, order,
prosperity, and happiness of the nation, I have acquired a
habitual attachment to it and veneration for it.

What other form of government, indeed, can so well
deserve our esteem and love?

There may be little solidity in an ancient idea that con-
gregations of men into cities and nations are the most
pleasing objects in the sight of superior intelligences; but
this is very certain, that to a benevolent human mind there
can be no spectacle presented by any nation more pleasing,


more noble, majestic, or august, than an assembly like that
which has so often been seen in this and the other cham-
ber of Congress of a government in which the executive
authority, as well as that of all the branches of the legisla-
ture, are exercised by citizens, selected at regular periods
by their neighbors, to make and execute laws for the gen-
eral good. Can anything essential, anything more than
mere ornament and decoration, be added to this by robes
or diamonds? Can authority be more amiable or respect-
able, when it descends from accidents or institutions estab-
lished in remote antiquity, than when it springs fresh from
the hearts and judgments of an honest and enlightened
people? For it is the people only that are represented; it
is their power and majesty that is reflected, and only for
their good, in every legitimate government, under whatever
form it may appear. The existence of such a government
as ours for any length of time is a full proof of a general
dissemination of knowledge and virtue throughout the
whole body of the people. And what object of considera-
tion more pleasing than this can be presented to the human
mind? If national pride is ever justifiable or excusable, it
is when it springs, not from power or riches, grandeur or
glory, but from conviction of national innocence, informa-
tion, and benevolence.

In the midst of these pleasing ideas, we should be un-
faithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the
danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous
should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and inde-
pendent elections. If an election is to be determined by
a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured by a
party through artifice or corruption, the government may
be the choice of a party for its own ends, not of the nation
for the national good. If that solitary suffrage can be ob-
tained by foreign nations, by flattery or menaces, by fraud
or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality, the government
may not be the choice of the American people, but of for-
eign nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us,
and not we, the people, who govern ourselves; and candid
men will acknowledge that, in such cases, choice would
have little advantage to boast of over lot or chance.

Such is the amiable and interesting system of govern-


ment (and such are some of the abuses to which it may be
exposed) which the people of America have exhibited to
the admiration and anxiety of the wise and virtuous of all
nations for eight years, under the administration of a citi-
zen who, by a long course of great actions, regulated by
prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, conducting
a people inspired with the same virtues, and animated with
the same ardent patriotism and love of liberty, to inde-
pendence and peace, to increasing wealth and unexampled
prosperity, has merited the gratitude of his fellow citizens,
commanded the highest praises of foreign nations, and
secured immortal glory with posterity.

In that retirement, which is his voluntary choice, may
he long live to enjoy the delicious recollection of his serv-
ices: the gratitude of mankind, the happy fruits of them
to himself and the world which are daily increasing, and
that splendid prospect of the future fortunes of his country
which is opening from year to year. His name may be still
a rampart, and the knowledge that he lives a bulwark,
against all open or secret enemies of his country's peace.

This example has been recommended to the imitation
of his successors, by both houses of Congress, and by the
voice of the legislatures and the people, throughout the

On this subject it might become me better to be silent,
or to speak with diffidence; but as something maybe ex-
pected, the occasion, I hope, will be admitted as an apol-
ogy, if I venture to say, that if a preference, upon principle,
of a free republican government, formed upon long and
serious reflection, after a diligent and impartial inquiry after
truth; if an attachment to the Constitution of the United
States, and a conscientious determination to support it,
until it shall be altered by the judgments and wishes of the
people, expressed in the mode prescribed in it ; if a respect-
ful attention to the constitutions of the individual states,
and a constant caution and delicacy toward the state gov-
ernments; if an equal and impartial regard to the rights,
interests, honor, and happiness of all the states of the
Union, without preference or regard to a northern or south-
ern, eastern or western position, their various political
opinions on essential points, or their personal attachments;

if a love of virtuous men, of all parties and denominations;
if a love of science and letters, and a wish to patronize
every rational effort to encourage schools, colleges, univer-
sities, academies, and every institution for propagating
knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the
people, not only for their benign influence on the happiness
of life, in all its stages and classes, and of society in all its
forms, but as the only means of preserving our Constitution
from its natural enemies, the spirit of sophistry, the spirit
of party, the spirit of intrigue, profligacy, and corruption,
and the pestilence of foreign influence, which is the angel
of destruction to elective governments; if a love of equal
laws, of justice and humanity, in the interior administra-
tion; if an inclination to improve agriculture, commerce,
and manufactures for necessity, convenience, and defense;
if a spirit of equity and humanity toward the aboriginal
nations of America, and a disposition to ameliorate their
condition, by inclining them to be more friendly to us, and
our citizens to be more friendly to them ; if an inflexible
determination to maintain peace and inviolable faith with
all nations, and that system of neutrality and impartiality
among the belligerent powers of Europe which has been
adopted by the government, and so solemnly sanctioned by
both houses of Congress, and applauded by the legislatures
of the states and the public opinion, until it shall be other-
wise ordained by Congress; if a personal esteem for the
French nation, formed in a residence of seven years chiefly
among them, and a sincere desire to preserve the friend-
ship which has been so much for the honor and interest of
both nations; if, while the conscious honor and integrity of
the people of America, and the internal sentiment of their
own power and energies must be preserved, an earnest en-
deavor to investigate every just cause, and remove every
colorable pretense of complaint; if an intention to pursue,
by amicable negotiation, a reparation for the injuries that
have been committed on the commerce of our fellow
citizens, by whatever nation ; and if success cannot be ob-
tained, to lay the facts before the legislature, that they
may consider what further measures the honor and interest
of the government and its constituents demand; if a reso-
lution to do justice, as far as may depend upon me, at all


times and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship,
and benevolence with all the world; if an unshaken con-
fidence in the honor, spirit, and resources of the American
people, on which I have so often hazarded my all, and
never been deceived; if elevated ideas of the high destinies
of this country, and of my own duties toward it, founded
on a knowledge of the moral principles and intellectual im-
provements of the people, deeply engraven on my mind in
early life, and not obscured but exalted by experience and
age ; and with humble reverence I feel it my duty to add,
if a veneration for the religion of a people, who profess and
call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to con-
sider a decent respect for Christianity among the best rec-
ommendations for the public service, can enable me, in any
degree, to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenu-
ous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two
houses shall not be without effect.

With this great example before me with the sense and
spirit, the faith and honor, the duty and interest of the
same American people, pledged to support the Constitu-
tion of the United States, I entertain no doubt of its con-
tinuance in all its energy; and my mind is prepared, without
hesitation, to lay myself under the most solemn obligations
to support it to the utmost of my power.

And may that Being who is supreme over all, the patron
of order, the fountain of justice, and the protector, in all
ages of the world, of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing
upon this nation and its government, and give it all pos-
sible success and duration, consistent with the ends of His



[John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, was
born at Braintree, Mass., July n, 1767. He was the son of John
Adams, the second President. He accompanied his father on his dip-
lomatic missions to Europe, and began his education abroad. In 1785
he decided to return to the United States and enter Harvard. His at-
tainments enabled him to enter the junior class and he took his degree
in 1787. Four years later he was admitted to the bar. In 1794 Wash-
ington appointed him Minister to the Hague, from which place, in 1797,
he was transferred to the court of Prussia. In 1801 he returned to
America, and two years later was elected to the Senate from Massa-
chusetts. In 1809 he was appointed Minister to Russia by President
Madison. His duties being slight, his time was mainly engrossed by
social functions and study, together with a keen observation of passing
events, this being the time of the Napoleonic invasion. He remained
there for two years, when he resigned and returned home, thus clos-
ing the long though intermittent period of his residence in foreign
countries. As secretary of state, to which office he was appointed in
1817, he became the originator of the " Monroe Doctrine," before the
publication of the message that fathered upon Monroe this famous
political canon. By the then established tradition that the head of the
state department was in the line of succession to the presidency,
Adams passed to that office in 1824. He died in 1848. The following
oration was delivered before the New York Historical Society, 1839.
The second speech was made in the House of Representatives, 1836.]

FELLOW CITIZENS and Brethren, Associates of the
New York Historical Society: Would it be an unli-
censed trespass of the imagination to conceive that on the
night preceding the day of which you now commemorate
the fiftieth anniversary on the night preceding that
thirtieth of April 1789, when from the balcony of your City
Hall the chancellor of the State of New York adminis-
tered to George Washington the solemn oath faithfully to


execute the office of President of the United States, and to
the best of his ability to preserve, protect, and defend the
Constitution of the United States that in the visions of
the night the guardian angel of the Father of our Country
had appeared before him, in the venerated form of his
mother, and, to cheer and encourage him in the performance
of the momentous and solemn duties that he was about to
assume, had delivered to him a suit of celestial armor a
helmet, consisting of the principles of piety, of justice, of
honor, of benevolence, with which from his earliest infancy
he had hitherto walked through life, in the presence of all
his brethren ; a spear, studded with the self-evident truths
of the Declaration of Independence; a sword, the same with
which he had led the armies of his country through the war
of freedom to the summit of the triumphal arch of inde-
pendence; a corselet and cuishes of long experience and
habitual intercourse in peace and war with the world of
mankind, his contemporaries of the human race, in all their
stages of civilization ; and, last of all, the Constitution of
the United States, a shield, embossed by heavenly hands
with the future history of his country?

Yes, gentlemen, on that shield, the Constitution of the
United States, was sculptured (by forms unseen, and in
characters then invisible to mortal eye) the predestined and
prophetic history of the one confederated people of the
North American Union.

They had been the settlers of thirteen separate and dis-
tinct English colonies, along the margin of the shore of the
North American continent ; contiguously situated, but char-
tered by adventurers of characters variously diversified, in-
cluding sectarians, religious and political, of all the classes
which for the two preceding centuries had agitated and
divided the people of the British islands and with them
were intermingled the descendants of Hollanders, Swedes,
Germans, and French fugitives from the persecution of the
revoker of the edict of Nantes.

In the bosoms of this people, thus heterogeneously com-
posed, there was burning, kindled at different furnaces, but
all furnaces of affliction, one clear, steady flame of liberty.
Bold and daring enterprise, stubborn endurance of priva-
tion, unflinching intrepidity in facing danger, and inflexible


adherence to conscientious principle, had steeled to ener-
getic and unyielding hardihood the characters of the primi-
tive settlers of all these colonies. Since that time two or
three generations of men had passed away, but they had
increased and multiplied with unexampled rapidity; and
the land itself had been the recent theater of a ferocious
and bloody seven-years' war between the two most power-
ful and most civilized nations of Europe, contending for the
possession of this continent.

Of that strife the victorious combatant had been Britain.
She had conquered the provinces of France. She had ex-
pelled her rival totally from the continent, over which,
bounding herself by the Mississippi, she was thenceforth to
hold divided empire only with Spain. She had acquired
undisputed control over the Indian tribes still tenanting the
forests unexplored by the European man. She had estab-
lished an uncontested monopoly of the commerce of all her
colonies. But forgetting all the warnings of preceding ages
forgetting the lessons written in the blood of her own
children, through centuries of departed time, she undertook
to tax the people of the colonies without their consent.

Resistance, instantaneous, unconcerted, sympathetic, in-
flexible resistance, like an electric shock, startled and roused
the people of all the English colonies on this continent.

This was the first signal of the North American Union.
The struggle was for chartered rights for English liberties
for the cause of Algernon Sidney and John Hampden
for trial by jury the habeas corpus and magna charta.

But the English lawyers had decided that Parliament
was omnipotent and Parliament, in its omnipotence, in-
stead of trial by jury and the habeas corpus, enacted
admiralty courts in England to try Americans for offenses
charged against them as committed in America; instead of
the privileges of magna charta, nullified the charter itself
of Massachusetts Bay, shut up the port of Boston, sent
armies and navies to keep the peace and teach the colonies
that John Hampden was a rebel and Algernon Sidney a

English liberties had failed them. From the omnipo-
tence of Parliament the colonists appealed to the rights of
man and the omnipotence of the God of Battles. Union !


Union ! was the instinctive and simultaneous cry through-
out the land. Their congress, assembled at Philadelphia,
once twice had petitioned the king; had remonstrated to
Parliament; had addressed the people of Britain, for the
rights of Englishmen in vain. Fleets and armies, the
blood of Lexington, and the fires of Charlestown and Fal-
mouth, had been the answer to petition, remonstrance, and

The dissolution of allegiance to the British crown, the
severance of the colonies from the British empire, and their
actual existence as independent states, were definitely estab-
lished in fact, by war and peace. The independence of each
separate state had never been declared of right. It never
existed in fact. Upon the principles of the Declaration of
Independence, the dissolution of the ties of allegiance, the
assumption of sovereign power, and the institution of civil
government, are all acts of transcendent authority, which
the people alone are competent to perform ; and, accord-
ingly, it is in the name and by the authority of the people,
that two of these acts the dissolution of allegiance, with
the severance from the British empire, and the declaration
of the united colonies as free and independent states were
performed by that instrument.

But there still remained the last and crowning act, which
the people of the Union alone were competent to perform
the institution of civil government for that compound
nation, the United States of America.

At this day it cannot but strike us as extraordinary that
it does not appear to have occurred to any one member of
that assembly, which had laid down in terms so clear, so
explicit, so unequivocal, the foundation of all just govern-
ment in the imprescriptible rights of man, and the tran-
scendent sovereignty of the people, and who in those prin-
ciples had set forth their only personal vindication from the
charges of rebellion against their king, and of treason to
their country, that their last crowning act was still to be
performed upon the same principles. That is, the institu-
tion, by the people of the United States, of a civil govern-
ment, to guard and protect and defend them all. On the
contrary, that same assembly which issued the Declaration
of Independence, instead of continuing to act in the name


and by the authority of the good people of the United
States, had, immediately after the appointment of the com-
mittee to prepare the Declaration, appointed another com-
mittee, of one member from each colony, to prepare and
digest the form of confederation to be entered into between
the colonies.

That committee reported on the twelfth of July, eight
days after the Declaration of Independence had been issued,
a draft of articles of confederation between the colonies.
This draft was prepared by John Dickinson, then a delegate
from Pennsylvania, who voted against the Declaration of
Independence, and never signed it, having been superseded
by a new election of delegates from that state eight days
after his draft was reported.

There was thus no congeniality of principle between the
Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confeder-
ation. The foundation of the former was a superintending
Providence, the rights of man, and the constituent revo-
lutionary power of the people. That of the latter was the
sovereignty of organized power, and the independence of
the separate or disunited states. The fabric of the Dec-
laration and that of the Confederation were each consistent
with its own foundation, but they could not form one con-
sistent, symmetrical edifice. They were the productions
of different minds and of adverse passions; one, ascending
for the foundation of human government to the laws of
nature and of God, written upon the heart of man; the
other, resting upon the basis of human institutions, and
prescriptive law, and colonial charter. The corner-stone of
the one was right, that of the other was power.

Where, then, did each state get the sovereignty, free-
dom, and independence which the Articles of Confederation
declare it retains? not from the whole people of the whole
Union not from the Declaration of Independence not
from the people of the state itself. It was assumed by
agreement between the legislatures of the several states,

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 3 of 43)