Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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I say that there has not been that friendly and cordial
neutrality which, if I had been a citizen of the United
States, I should have expected ; and I say further, that, if
there has existed considerable irritation at that, it must be
taken as a measure of the high appreciation which the peo-
ple of those states place upon the opinion of the people of
England. If I had been addressing this audience ten days
ago, so far as I know, I should have said just what I have
said now; and although, by an untoward event, circum-
stances are somewhat, even considerably, altered, yet I have
thought it desirable to make this statement, with a view, so
far as I am able to do it, to improve the opinion of Eng-
land, and to assuage feelings of irritation in America, if
there be any, so that no further difficulties may arise in the
progress of this unhappy strife.

But there has occurred an event which was announced
to us only a week ago, which is one of great importance,
and it may be one of some peril. It is asserted that what is
called "international law" has been broken by the seizure
of the southern commissioners on board an English trading
steamer by a steamer of war of the United States. Now,
what is international law? You have heard that the opin-
ions of the law officers of the crown are in favor of this view
of the case that the law has been broken. I am not at all
going to say that it has not. It would be imprudent in me
to set my opinion on a legal question which I have only
partially examined, against their opinion on the same ques-
tion, which I presume they have carefully examined. But
this I say, that international law is not to be found in an
act of parliament it is not in so many clauses. You know
that it is difficult to find the law. I can ask the mayor, or
any magistrate around me, whether it is not very difficult
to find the law, even when you have found the act of par-


liament and found the clause. But when you have no act
of parliament, and no clause, you may imagine that the
case is still more difficult.

Now, maritime law, or international law, consists of
opinions and precedents for the most part, and it is very
unsettled. The opinions are the opinions of men of differ-
ent countries, given at different times; and the precedents
are not always like each other. The law is very unsettled,
and, for the most part, I believe it to be exceedingly bad.
In past times, as you know from the histories you read,
this country has been a fighting country; we have been
belligerents, and, as belligerents, we have carried maritime
law, by our own powerful hand, to a pitch that has been
very oppressive to foreign, and especially so to neutral,
nations. Well, now, for the first time, unhappily almost
for the first time in our history for the last two hundred
years we are not belligerents, but neutrals; and we are
disposed to take, perhaps, rather a different view of mari-
time and international law.

Now, the act which has been committed by the Ameri-
can steamer, in my opinion, whether it was legal or not,
was both impolitic and bad. That is my opinion. I think
it may turn out, almost certainly, that, so far as the taking
of those men from that ship was concerned, it was an act
wholly unknown to, and unauthorized by, the American
government. And if the American government believe,
on the opinion of their law officers, that the act is illegal,
I have no doubt they will make fitting reparation ; for there
is no government in the world that has so strenuously in-
sisted upon modifications of international law, and been so
anxious to be guided always by the most moderate and
merciful interpretation of that law.

Now, our great advisers of the "Times" newspaper have
been persuading people that this is merely one of a series
of acts which denote the determination of the Washington
government to pick a quarrel with the people of England.
Did you ever know anybody who was not very nearly dead
drunk, who, having as much upon his hands as he could
manage, would offer to fight everybody about him? Do you
believe that the United States government, presided over
by President Lincoln, so constitutional in all his acts, so


moderate as he has been representing at this moment that
great party in the United States, happily now in the ascend-
ency, which has always been especially in favor of peace,
and especially friendly to England do you believe that
such a government, having now upon its hands an insurrec-
tion of the most formidable character in the South, would
invite the armies and the fleets of England to combine with
that insurrection, and, it might be, to render it impossible
that the Union should ever again be restored? I say, that
single statement, whether it came from a public writer or
a public speaker, is enough to stamp him forever with the
character of being an insidious enemy of both countries.

Well now, what have we seen during the last week?
People have not been, I am told I have not seen much of
it quite as calm as sensible men should be. Here is a
question of law. I will undertake to say that when you
have from the United States government if they think
the act legal a statement of their view of the case, they
will show you that, fifty or sixty years ago, during the wars
of that time, there were scores of cases that were at least
as bad as this, and some infinitely worse. And if it were
not so late to-night and I am not anxious now to go into
the question further I could easily place before you cases
of extreme outrage committed by us when we were at war,
and for many of which, I am afraid, little or no reparation
was offered. But let us bear this in mind, that during this
struggle incidents and accidents will happen. Bear in mind
the advice of Lord Stanley, so opportune and so judicious.
Do not let your newspapers, or your public speakers, or
any man, take you off your guard, and bring you into that
frame of mind under which your government, if it desires
war, may be driven to engage in it ; for one may be almost
as fatal and as evil as the other.

What can be more monstrous than that we, as we call
ourselves, to some extent, an educated, a moral, and a
Christian nation at a moment when an accident of this
kind occurs, before we have made a representation to the
American government, before we have heard a word from
it in reply should be all up in arms, every sword leaping
from its scabbard, and every man looking about for his
pistols and his blunderbusses? I think the conduct pursued


and I have no doubt just the same is pursued by a certain
class in America is much more the conduct of savages than
of Christian and civilized men. No, let us be calm. You
recollect how we were dragged into the Russian war how
we "drifted" into it. You know that I, at least, have not
upon my head any of the guilt of that fearful war. You
know that it cost one hundred millions of money to this
country; that it cost at least the lives of forty thousand
Englishmen; that it disturbed your trade; that it nearly
doubled the armies of Europe; that it placed the relations
of Europe on a much less peaceful footing than before; and
that it did not effect one single thing of all those that it
was promised to effect.

I recollect speaking on this subject, within the last two
years, to a man whose name I have already mentioned, Sir
James Graham, in the House of Commons. He was a min-
ister at the time of that war. He was reminding me of a
severe onslaught which I had made upon him and Lord
Palmerston for attending a dinner at the Reform Club when
Sir Charles Napier was appointed to the command of the
Baltic fleet; and he remarked, "What a severe thrashing"
I had given them in the House of Commons! I said, "Sir
James, tell me candidly, did you not deserve it?" He
said, "Well, you were entirely right about that war; we
were entirely wrong, and we never should have gone into
it." And this is exactly what everybody will say, if you
go into a war about this business, when it is over. When
your sailors and soldiers, so many of them as may be
slaughtered, are gone to their last account; when your
taxes are increased, your business permanently it may be
injured; and when embittered feelings for generations
have been created between America and England then
your statesmen will tell you that "we ought not to have
gone into the war."

But they will very likely say, as many of them tell me,
"What could we do in the frenzy of the public mind?" Let
them not add to the frenzy, and let us be careful that
nobody drives us into that frenzy. Remembering the past,
remembering at this moment the perils of a friendly people,
and seeing the difficulties by which they are surrounded, let
us, I entreat of you, see if there be any real moderation in the


people of England, and if magnanimity, so often to be found
among individuals, is absolutely wanting in a great nation.

Now, government may discuss this matter they may
arrange it they may arbitrate it. I have received here,
since I came into the room, a despatch from a friend of
mine in London, referring to this matter. I believe some
portion of it is in the papers this evening, but I have not
seen them. He states that General Scott, whom you know
by name, who has come over from America to France,
being in a bad state of health the general lately of the
American army, and a man whose reputation in that country
is hardly second to that which the Duke of Wellington held
during his lifetime in this country General Scott has writ-
ten a letter on the American difficulty. He denies that
the cabinet at Washington had ordered the seizure of the
Southern commissioners, if found under a neutral flag.
The question of legal right involved in the seizure, the gen-
eral thinks a very narrow ground on which to force a quarrel
with the United States. As to Messrs. Slidell and Mason
being or not being contraband, the general answers for it,
that, if Mr. Seward could convince Earl Russell that they
bore that character, Earl Russell will be able to convince
Mr. Seward that they did not. He pledges himself that,
if this government cordially agreed with that of the United
States in establishing the immunity of neutrals from the
oppressive right of search and seizure on suspicion, the cab-
inet at Washington will not hesitate to purchase so great
a boon to peaceful trading vessels.

Now, then, before I sit down, let me ask you what is
this people, about which so many men in England at this
moment are writing, and speaking, and thinking, with harsh-
ness I think with injustice, if not with great bitterness?
Two centuries ago, multitudes of the people of this country
found a refuge on the North American continent, escaping
from the tyranny of the Stuarts and from the bigotry of
Laud. Many noble spirits from our country made great
experiments in favor of human freedom on that continent.
Bancroft, the great historian of his own country, has said,
in his own graphic and emphatic language, "The history of
the colonization of America is the history of the crimes of


At this very moment, then, there are millions in the
United States who personally, or whose immediate parents,
have at one time been citizens of this country. They found
a home in the far West; they subdued the wilderness; they
met with plenty there, which was not afforded them in their
native country; and they have become a great people.
There may be persons in England who are jealous of those
states. There may be men who dislike democracy, and
who hate a republic ; there may be even those whose sym-
pathies warm toward the slave oligarchy of the South. But
of this I am certain, that only misrepresentation the most
gross or calumny the most wicked can sever the tie which
unites the great mass of the people of this country with
their friends and brethren beyond the Atlantic.

Now, whether the Union will be restored or not, or the
South achieve an unhonored independence or not, I know
not, and I predict not. But this I think I know that in a
few years, a very few years, the twenty millions of freemen
in the North will be thirty millions, or even fifty millions
a population equal to or exceeding that of this kingdom.
When that time comes, I pray that it may not be said
among them that, in the darkest hour of their country's
trials, England, the land of their fathers, looked on with
icy coldness and saw unmoved the perils and calamities of
their children. As for me, I have but this to say: I am
but one in this audience, and but one in the citizenship of
this country; but if all other tongues are silent, mine shall
speak for that policy which gives hope to the bondmen of
the South, and which tends to generous thoughts, and gen-
erous words, and generous deeds, between the two great
nations who speak the English language, and from their
origin are alike entitled to the English name.



[Preston Smith Brooks, congressman and lawyer, was born in
Edgefield District, S. C, 1819. He was educated in his native district
school until early manhood, when he matriculated at the South Caro-
lina College, where he graduated in 1839. On leaving college he de-
voted himself to the study of law, and in 1843 was admitted to the bar.
In 1844 he was elected to the South Carolina Legislature. During the
Mexican War he was enrolled as captain of the Palmetto regiment of
his native state. At the close of the war he directed his attention to
politics and joined the party of the state rights Democrats, and soon
came to the front as a man of conspicuous ability, and of fiery enthu-
siasm as an advocate of Southern claims. In 1853 he was elected to
Congress. His political career was brought to a close by an act of
violence on his part which keeps his name in history through the illus-
trious name and character of his victim, Charles Sumner, who never
recovered from the effects of the brutal assault. The attack was pro-
voked by the senator's attack on Senator Butler of South Carolina, with
whom Brooks claimed to be connected by ties of blood. The assailant
was tried by a committee of the House, who recommended Mr. Brooks'
expulsion from the House of Representatives. When put to the vote
the motion was lost. The impetuous temper of Brooks was exhibited
later in his dispute with Anson Burlingame, whom he challenged to a
duel, but failed to put in an appearance at the time and place appointed
for the meeting. Although he resigned his seat in the House in 1856,
he was reelected, but died in 1857. The following speech, alluding di-
rectly to the Sumner assault, and announcing the speaker's resignation
from Congress, was delivered in the House of Representatives in 1856.]

MR. SPEAKER: Some time since a senator from
Massachusetts allowed himself, in an elaborately
prepared speech, to offer a gross insult to my state, and to
a venerable friend who is my State Representative, and
who was absent at the time.

Not content with that, he published to the world and


circulated extensively this uncalled-for libel on my state
and my blood. Whatever insults my state insults me.
Her history and character have commanded my pious ven-
eration ; and in her defense I hope I shall always be pre-
pared, humbly and modestly, to perform the duty of a son.
I should have forfeited my own self-respect, and perhaps
the good opinion of my countrymen, if I failed to resent
such an injury by calling the offender in question to a per-
sonal account. It was a personal affair, and in taking
redress into my own hands I meant no disrespect to the
Senate of the United States or to this House.

Nor, sir, did I design insult or disrespect to the State of
Massachusetts. I was aware of the personal responsibili-
ties I incurred, and was willing to meet them. I knew,
too, that I was amenable to the laws of the country, which
afford the same protection to all, whether they be members
of Congress or private citizens. I did not, and do not
now believe, that I could be properly punished, not only in
a court of law, but here also, at the pleasure and discretion
of the House. I did not then, and do not now, believe
that the spirit of American freemen would tolerate slander
in high places and permit a member of Congress to publish
and circulate a libel on another, and then call upon either
House to protect him against the personal responsibilities
which he had thus incurred.

But if I had committed a breach of privilege, it was the
privilege of the Senate, and not of this House, which was
violated. I was answerable there and not here. They had
no right, as it seems to me, to prosecute me in these halls,
nor have you the right in law or under the Constitution, as
I respectfully submit, to take jurisdiction over offenses
committed against them. The Constitution does not justify
them in making such a request, nor this House in grant-
ing it.

If, unhappily, the day should ever come when sectional
or party feeling should run so high as to control all other
considerations of public duty or justice, how easy it will
be to use such precedents for the excuse of arbitrary power,
in either House, to expel members of the minority who may
have rendered themselves obnoxious to the prevailing spirit
in the House to which they belong.


Matters may go smoothly enough when one House asks
the other to punish a member who is offensive to a majority
of its own body ; but how will it be when, upon a pretense
of insulted dignity, demands are made of this House to
expel a member who happens to run counter to its party
predilections, or other demands which it may not be so
agreeable to grant?

It could never have been designed by the Constitution
of the United States to expose the two houses to such
temptations to collision, or to extend so far the discre-
tionary power which was given to either House to punish
its own members for the violation of its rules and orders.
Discretion has been said to be the law of the tyrant, and
when exercised under the color of the law and under the
influence of party dictation, it may and will become a
terrible and insufferable despotism.

This House, however, it would seem, from the unmis-
takable tendency of its proceedings, takes a different view
from that which I deliberately entertain in common with
many others.

So far as public interests or constitutional rights are
involved, I have now exhausted my means of defense. I
may, then, be allowed to take a more personal view of the
question at issue. The further prosecution of this subject,
in the shape it has now assumed, may not only involve my
friends, but the House itself, in agitations which might be
unhappy in their consequences to the country.

If these consequences could be confined to myself indi-
vidually, I think I am prepared and ready to meet them,
here or elsewhere; and when I use this language I mean
what I say. But others must not suffer for me. I have
felt more on account of my two friends who have been im-
plicated than for myself, for they have proven that "there
is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." I will not
constrain gentlemen to assume a responsibility on my
account which possibly they would not run on their own.

Sir, I cannot, on my own account, assume the responsi-
bility, in the face of the American people, of commencing
a line of conduct which in my heart of hearts I believe would
result in subverting the foundations of this government and
in drenching this hall in blood. No act of mine, on my


personal account, shall inaugurate revolution ; but when
you, Mr. Speaker, return to your own home and hear the
people of the great North and they are a great people
speak of me as a bad man, you will do me the justice to say
that a blow struck by me at this time would be followed by
revolution and this I know.

If I desired to kill the senator, why did not I do it?
You all admit that I had him in my power. Let me tell
the member from New Jersey that it was expressly to avoid
taking life that I used an ordinary cane, presented to me
by a friend in Baltimore nearly three months before its
application to the "bare head" of the Massachusetts sen-
ator. I went to work very deliberately, as I am charged
and this is admitted and speculated somewhat as to whether
I should employ a horsewhip or a cowhide; but knowing
that the senator was my superior in strength, it occurred to
me that he might wrest it from my hand, and then for I
never attempt anything I do not perform I might have
been compelled to do that which I would have regretted
the balance of my natural life.

The question has been asked in certain newspapers why
I did not invite the senator to personal combat in the mode
usually adopted. Well, sir, as I desire the whole truth to
be known about the matter, I will for once notice a news-
paper article on the floor of the House and answer here.

My answer is that the senator would not accept a mes-
sage ; and, having formed the unalterable determination to
punish him, I believed that the offense of "sending a hostile
message," superadded to the indictment for assault and
battery, would subject me to legal penalties more severe
than would be imposed for a simple assault and battery.
That is my answer.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I have nearly finished what I in-
tended to say. If my opponents, who have pursued me
with unparalleled bitterness, are satisfied with the present
condition of this affair, I am. I return my thanks to my
friends, and especially to those who are from non-slave-
owning states, who have magnanimously sustained me and
felt that it was a higher honor to themselves to be just in
their judgment of a gentleman than to be a member of Con-
gress for life. In taking my leave, I feel that it is proper


that I should say that I believe that some of the votes that
have been cast against me have been extorted by an outside
pressure at home, and that their votes do not express the
feelings or opinions of the members who gave them.

To such of these who have given their votes and made
their speeches on the constitutional principles involved, and
without indulging in personal vilification, I owe my respect.
But, sir, they have written me down upon the history of the
country as worthy of expulsion, and in no unkindness I
must tell them that for all future time my self-respect re-
quires that I shall pass them as strangers.

And now, Mr. Speaker, I announce to you and to this
House that I am no longer a member of the Thirty-fourth



[Henry Brougham (Lord Brougham and Vaux), a British states-
man and brilliant orator, was born in Edinburgh in 1778. His educa-
tion was superintended by his uncle, the historian Robertson, and at
twenty-two he was a proficient mathematician and physicist, a master
of historical learning and of oratory, and the ablest man of letters in
Edinburgh. He helped to found the Edinburgh Review, and in 1810
entered parliament. Here his supremacy in debate was long undis-
puted. His work as a reformer of legal abuses has left the stamp of
his genius on the British statute book for all time. His oratory is dis-
played most brilliantly, perhaps, in his defense of Queen Caroline. On
the death of the king he was made lord chancellor. Among his works
may be mentioned " An Inquiry into the Colonial Policy of the European
Powers," "The British Constitution," tracts against slavery, studies in
biography, and collections of his speeches. He died in 1881. The
speech given here was made at the beginning of the American War of
1812, and was directed chiefly against the policy of William Pitt in his
advice to the British government regarding its dealings with the United
States. The second speech was made in the House of Lords, 1818.]

ENTLEMEN: I told you last night when we were
V_T near the head of the poll, that I, for one at least,
would neither lose heart in the conflict, nor lower my cour-
age in fighting your battles, nor despair of the good cause,
although we should be fifty, a hundred, or even two hun-
dred behind our enemies. It has happened this day that
we have fallen short of them, not quite by two hundred, but
we have lost one hundred and seventy votes. I tell you
this with the deepest concern, with feelings of pain and sor-
row which I dare not trust myself in attempting to express.
But I tell it you without any sensation approaching to de-

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 32 of 43)