Thomas F. (Thomas Francis) Bayard.

Oration pronounced on Webster commemoration day June 28, 1882, at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire online

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Online LibraryThomas F. (Thomas Francis) BayardOration pronounced on Webster commemoration day June 28, 1882, at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire → online text (page 3 of 4)
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the honesty, the dignity, the wisdom and force trans-
parent in them all, all clad in the strong, simple,
English garb of speech, constitute, to my mind, the
highest type of American eloquence bestowed upon
the grandest of American themes.

The influences of Mr. Webster's counsels, and the
moral forces which he set in motion all over the
country, are easily to be traced in the history of his-
times, and exist to-day.

It cannot well be doubted that the settlement of
many a question as to the extent of the constitutional
powers of the government, by which it maintained
its peaceful ascendency, was due in a large measure
to his arguments in the Senate and the forum.

His speeches on Foot's resolution, in 1832,


marshalled the opinion of the entire North, and a
majority of the people everywhere, against the doc-
trine of nullification, and consequent disruption of
the Union under that claim of alleged right.

His counsels of amity, his never-failing opposition
to sectional animosity, his constant encouragement
to mutual and kindly trust and brotherhood between
the distant and diverse populations of his country-
men, combined with his warnings of the dangers of
dissolution and the impossibility of its peaceful ac-
complishment, did, as I believe, and as I claim the
sequel has proven, more than any other single force,
postpone until nearly a generation after his death
the dreadful collision which in 1832 he so earnestly
prayed his eyes might never witness ; and when in
the providence of God the blow fell, it was to the
spirit of union and nationality which he had so stead-
ily inculcated, that we owe the reestablishment in
peace of the admitted power of our government
over these United States and people.

And was his patriotic and prophetic vision at fault?
Have not his warnings all been but too sadly vin-
dicated ? Who was right in 1850, Webster when
he said, —

Peaceable secession is an utter impossibility. * * I
will not state what might produce the disruption of the
Union, but, sir, I see as plainly as I see the sun in Heaven
what that disruption must produce; I see that it mi-ist pro-
duce war, and such a war I will not describe in its two-fold
character !

Let us raise our conceptions of the magnitude and the
importance of the duties that devolve upon us ; let our com-
prehension be as broad as the country for which we act, our
aspirations as high as its certain destinies ; let us not be
pigmies in a cause that calls for men.


or was it the most eloquent and unrelenting of his
detractors and adversaries, who above Webster's
grave declared, —

there wa^ not any danger of a storm, not a single cats-
paw in the sky, not a capful of bad weather between Cape
Sable and the Lake of the Woods.

and those who repeated and scattered far and wide
such rhapsodies of phrensied injustice and proofs of
mental blindness ?

Read the utterances of Webster, so full of pro-
phetic and affectionate warning to his countrymen
from the day he entered congress, growing more
clear and emphatic with each repetition, until
death silenced his eloquent tongue and stilled his
noble heart. Read, I say, everything he wrote or
spoke, from 1830 to 1852, by the lurid light of the
war of secession in 1861, and say who was the seer,
the prophet, the true statesman, — Webster, or those
who mocked and scoffed at his entreaties and warn-
ings ! And when at last the dread collision came,
when the curtain did rise and disclose to our eyes

states dissevered, discordant, belligerent, and a land rent
with civil feud, and drenched with fraternal blood, —

what spirit rose in the land to " conquer but to
save r

Was it the spirit of union, born of a realizing sense
of the value and necessity of the Union as a source
of peace and strength and safety to us all ?

Was it the spirit of nationality, and the determina-
tion that our free government should not disappear


from among the family of nations, and from off the
face of the earth ?

Were not these the causes which h'ad been so
steadily, so faithfully, so eloquently championed and
indoctrinated in the minds and hearts of his fellow-
countrymen by Webster throughout his life, which
saved and restored the Union ?

And when now we

behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, known and
honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its
arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a
stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing
for its motto that sentiment dear to every American heart,
Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable, —

to whom and to whose teachings must we, under
God, confess our great debt ?

Was it love for the Constitution and the Union, or
hatred of the Constitution and the Union, that sus-
tained the war for the Union, and kept the States
under a single government ?

Let the military history of the conflict answer ; let
the memorial tablets in church and graveyard, in
halls of education, — let all that records the names
and heroism of the dead, and those heroes of the
great conflict who still survive, — answer whether the
spirit that saved the Union was not the same spirit
that breathed through the speeches and writings of
the dead patriot whose memory to-day we revere,
whose public services we gratefully acknowledge,
whose counsels we recall, and whose precepts we
propose to follow and obey.



And now disunion and secession are words no
longer to be found in the political vocabulary of

We have a reestablished and secure Union, the
blessings and advantages of which grow daily more
apparent and more essential to the welfare and hap-
piness of every citizen. To-day none shrink back
more from the picture of an accomplished separa-
tion than .those who twenty years ago earnestly
sought to effect it ; none admit more freely that it
was " a political blunder worse than a crime."

The great moral question, the causa causans of
strife between the sections, of crimination and re-
crimination, of those words of insult and imputation
whose wounds were worse than poisoned arrows, —
the institution of involuntary servitude of human
beings, — the claim of legal ownership of man by
man, — is settled and blotted out forever. Not a
voice is heard lamenting its end, but everywhere in
the late regions of negro slavery rises the universal
chorus of thanksgiving and praise that it is gone,
and forever.

And with universal freedom has come increased
capacity for production ; and great is the development
of resources, and infinite the diversification of indus-
tries and pursuits. The prizes of such civilization
are great, and fierce is the competition for them, and
selfish and savage the contests of ambition for wealth
and power under the newer manifestations.

The need for Webster and men of his type exists
to-day, and ever will exist. Questions involving a
restraint upon the exercise of governmental power


are before us to-day, and many threaten danger to
our prosperity, and some the very existence of our
form of government.

" Great Empire and little minds go ill together,"
said Lord Bacon ; and assuredly we do possess a
"Great Empire " which we see too often ruled by
"little minds."

A system has grown up gradually, yet almost
imperceptibly, in our government, which has reached
a point of growth and power that enables it to over-
throw the main objects for which our Constitution
and laws were established, and to substitute a system
which enables men once vested with ofificial power
to use that power as a stepping-stone for its own
perpetuation and advancement, regardless of all
changes in the condition of popular sentiment.

This is commonly known as the " spoils system,"
and rests upon the dogma that the offices of a
government are instituted for the emolument and
advantage of the official, and the political party to
which he belongs, and not for the public use and

With the growth of the country and development
of its resources the expansion of the official corps
has naturally followed, until to-day the civil service
roll of the Federal government contains over one
hundred thousand names ; and, directly and indirectly
connected with and dependent upon them and in
the execution of their powers, it may safely be esti-
mated there are five times as many more.

Under a system which disregards the fact that
public service is the great end of office-holding, and


which substitutes the personal interest of the incum-
bent for that of the public, individual interests have
organized under the name and forms of political
parties, and a compact and drilled machine has been
brought into existence, which, under the rules of
party discipline, has become a " power behind the
throne greater than the throne itself," and, unknown
to our Constitution or any law, is actually more
powerful in controlling our forms of elections than
any power known to and defined by law itself.

Like everything else founded upon a false prin-
ciple, its evil effects grow steadily, and gather
strength from the very abuses which they create and
perpetuate. The consequences are not simply a loss
to tne public from the presence of inefficient servants,
but the utter destruction of those personal virtues of
self-respect, integrity, and conscientiousness, which
places every public interest in jeopardy.

Original appointment to office no longer depends
on character, capability, or presumed or proven fit-
ness ; nor does the tenure depend upon fidelity and
capacity, but unhesitating service as a political and
personal partisan, to whom scruples of any kind will
be only an encumbrance, has become the most
reliable groundwork for success in procuring or
retaining public office.

Thus gradually an army of mercenaries has been
organized, who are strong enough to control conven-
tions and nominating assemblies, set at defiance
public opinion, and laugh to scorn public conscience.

The effect of such a system upon our elections is
demoralizing and degrading in the extreme, as it


proceeds upon the doctrine that the official positions
of the government are the spoils of party conquest.

The incumbents find the means of support for
themselves and their families placed in jeopardy on
the recurrence of each election, —

"you take my life,
When you do take the means whereby I live," —

and, so believing, they fight as for their lives, and go
through periodical seasons of anxiety and distress,
demoralizing, disastrous, and distracting in the effects
upon them and their performance of duty. Time
and energy, which should be devoted to the public,
are given to party ends, and the public money paid
to them for public service is extorted from them by
the party tax-gatherer, who spares neither age nor
sex nor station, but bleeds all, from the cabinet-
minister to the errand-boy and the woman who
scrubs the steps. Opposed to this array we see a
far more numerous, but less disciplined and organ-
ized, body of hungry, seekers for office, savage with
delay and disappointment, and furious for success.

In such a contest the natural excitements of polit-
ical passions and clash of opinions are heated almost
to frenzy, and all restraints of morality, honor, and
legality are consumed and destroyed in the political
furnace. From such scenes and controversies men
of dignity, refinement, and self-respect naturally
shrink, and a measurable excuse is thus furnished
for the non-performance of political duties, of which
we see so many of those whose criticisms are so
fluent and unsparing are quick to avail themselves.


And places that should be filled by men possessing
qualities that win and deserve private and public
confidence are filled by adroit, scheming, unblushing
manipulators, who scoff at personal dignity and self-
respect, and avow themselves " practical politicians."
These men deride the idea of conscience in politics,
and scout every suggestion of purification and

The impressive admonitions of Washington, re-
peated and renewed by Webster, fall upon unheeding
ears ; — for what are the character and lives of such
men as Washington and Webster but a standing
rebuke to the class of men elevated to control by the
system of official spoils ?

By the law of its being each member of the
" political machine" is also its slave, whether he be
its so-called "boss" and leader, or one of the
humbler members. Personal independence, individ-
ual conscience, fidelity to honest conviction, weigh
nothing and can avail nothing to the man enlisted
in the spoils system of politics.

The evils are progressing, and each day public
comprehension of the system and its results is
increasing, as its dangers are unfolded.

One of these evils is the exclusion of men of self-
respeqt and independence of character from the
public counsels and from public service, by which
the prime object of our system of free choice of their
Representatives by the people is substantially defeat-
ed. The power that defeats is unknown to law, and
therefore is uncontrolled by law.

These dangers are fortunately beginning to attract


public attention, and are well calculated to excite
public alarm. In a less degree they existed in Mr.
Webster's day, and in 1832 he called public attention
to them in a speech before the convention at Wor-
cester :

Mr. President, as far as I know, there is no civilized
country on earth in which, on a change of rulers, there is
such an inqjiisition for spoil as we have witnessed in this
free republic. The inaugural address of 1829 spoke of a
searching operation of government. The most searching
operation, sir, of the present administration has been its
search for office and place. When, sir, did any English
minister. Whig or Tory, ever make such an inquest .? When
did he ever go down to low-water mark to make an ousting
of tide-waiters .'' When did he ever take away the daily
bread of weighers and gaugers and measurerb .? When did
he ever go into the villages to disturb the little post-offices,
the mail contracts, and everything else in the remotest
degree connected with government .' Sir. a British minister
who should do this, and should afterwards show his head
in a Britis,h House of Commons, would be received by a
universal hiss.

I have but little to say of the selections made to fill
vacancies thus created. It is true, however, and it is a
natural consequence of the system which has been acted
on, that, within the last three years, more nominations have
been rejected on the ground of unfitness than in all the pre-
ceding forty years of the government. And these nomina-
tions, you know, sir, could not have been rejected but by
votes of the President's own friends. The cases were too
strong to be resisted. Even party attachment could not
stand them. In some not a third of the Senate, in others
not ten votes, and in others not a single vote, could be ob-
tained ; and this for no particular reason known only to the
Senate, but on general grounds of the want of character
and qualifications, — on grounds known to everybody else,
as well as to the Senate. All this, sir, is perfectly natural
and consistent. The same p»rty selfishness which drives
good men out of office, will push bad men in. Political pro-
scription leads necessarily to the filling of offices with


incompetent persons, and to a consequent mal-execution of
official duties. And in my opinion, sir, this principle of
claiming a monopoly of office by the right of conquest, unless
the public shall effectually rebuke and restrain it, will en-
tirely change the character of our government. It elevates
party above country ; it forgets the common weal in the
pursuit of personal emolument ; it tends to form, it does
form, .we see that it has formed, a political combination,
united by no common principles or opinions among its
members, either upon the powers of the government or the
true policy of the country, but held together simply as an
association, under the charm of a popular head, seeking to
maintain possession of the government by a vigorous exer-
cise of its patronage ; and for this purpose agitating and
alarming and distressing social life by the exercise of a
tyrannical party proscription. Sir, if this course of things
cannot be checked, good men will grow tired of the exercise
of political privileges. They will have nothing to do with
popular elections. They will see that such elections are
but a mere selfish contest for office, and they will abandon
the government to the scramble of the bold, the daring, and
the desperate.

Three years subsequently he denounced the spoils
system in the Senate, and, in discussing the appoint-
ing and removing power of the President, said, —

The unlimited power to grant office, and to take it away,
gives a command over the hopes and fears of a vast multi-
tude of men. It is generally true that he who controls
another man's means of living, controls his will. Where
there are favors to be granted, there are usually enough to
solicit for them ; and, when favors once granted may be
withdrawn at pleasure, there is ordinarily little security for
personal independence of character. The power of giving
office thus affects the fears of all who are in, and the hopes
of all who are out. Those who are out endeavor to distin-
guish themselves by active political friendship, by warm
personal devotion, by clamorous support of men in whose
hands is the power of reward* while those who are in or-
dinarily take care that others shall not surpass them in such
qualities or such conduct as are most likely to secure favor.


They resolve not to be outdone in any of the works of
partisanship. The consequence of all this is obvious. A
competition ensues, not of patriotic labors, not of rough
and severe toils for the public good, not of manliness, inde-
pendence, and public spirit, but of complaisance, of indis-
criminate support of executive measures, of pliant subservi-
ency and gross adulation. All throng and rush together to
the altar of man-worship, and there they offer sacrifices,
and pour out libations, till the thick fumes of their incense
turn their own heads, and turn, also, the head of him who is
the object of their idolatry.

And in the course of the same speech he placed
the question of civil service on its true grounds,
when he affirmed that the civil offices of the govern-
ment should not be the mere instrumentalities of
the Administration, or converted into mere rew^ards
for party services, any more than the offices of the
military and naval branches.

This proposition should of course be stated with
important qualifications, so as to permit a change in
the governmental policy, to be executed by officials
whose sentiments were in accord with the reforms
proposed, not as rewards or punishments for indi-
vidual opinions, but as agencies to execute well-
settled pubhc opinion.

The underlying theory of our government, that
the will of the majority, legally expressed, shall be
represented and shall control in the administration
of public affairs, should not suffer obstruction from
the opinions of any set of office-holders.

The incident must follow the principal, and ob-
struction to the expressed will of the majority would
be just cause for the substitution of other agents to
secure its execution.


Said Mr. Webster, in February, 1835, —

It is necessary to bring back public officers to the con-
viction that they belong to the country, and not to any
administration, nor to any one man. The army is the army
of the country ; the navy is the navy of the country ; neither
of them is either the mere instrument of the administration
for the time being, nor of him who is at the head of it. The
post-office, the land-office, the custom-house, are in like
manner institutions of the country established for the good
of the people ; and it may well alarm , the lovers of free
institutions, when all the offices in these several depart-
ments are spoken of in high places as being but " spoils of
victory," to be enjoyed by those who are successful in a
contest in which they profess this grasping of the spoils to
have been the object of their efforts.

The great mass of official duties under our system
are simply ministerial, the performance of which is
no more affected by a man's political opinion than by
his religious tenets. 1

The judicial powers of the Constitution are ex-
pressly vested during the good behavior of the
judges, whose pecuniary independence of popular
will is additionally secured. This would leave there-
fore a comparatively small number of those leading
and controlling officers in which the political opinions
of the incumbent should accord with the policy of the
Executive, in favor of which public opinion had been
expressed, and whose removal could justly take place
on such grounds.

In 1 84 1, when Mr. Webster first filled the office of
Secretary of State, he had occasion to appoint a
commission to inquire into the condition of certain
public buildings then in the course of erection ; and
he issued instructions showing that he proposed to


carry into practice the methods he had recommended
to an opposing Administration. Said he, —

You will inquire into no man's political opinions or pref-
erences ; but if it be alleged that any person having power
either in employing or dimissing laborers, with any reference
to the political opinions of those who may have been em-
ployed or 'dismissed, or for any political or party object
whatever, or in any other way, has violated his duty for
party or electioneering purposes, you will inquire into the
truth of such accusation, and make report to me.

To such principles of administration must the
American people return, if they hope to see such
men as Webster in the public service. Such a
character as his, and a man holding such views,
would create consternation nowadays in a conven-
tion composed pf the spoilsmen of politics.

The evil is deeply seated and difficult of extirpa-
tion. Its fatal consequences I do not believe are
overestimated or overstated ; and, speaking not
without practical knowledge of the effect upon the
whole framework of our government in all of its
three great departments, I aver my belief that unless
an end shall soon be put to the system under which
at every election the offices of the country are, to
use the words of Webster, "claimed by the right of
party conquest," and have that claim allowed, we
shall lose even our form of government, of which,
long before, the substance will have disappeared.

Statesmanship is impossible with men whose only
thought and occupation is official brokage, and who
administer the powers of official patronage not by
the measure of the applicant's character, ability, or


fitness to perform the duties of the place, but by his
servility and unscrupulous devotion to the objects of
the political conspiracy into which he has been ad-

"Never forget [wrote Macaulay to his constit-
uents, when leaving for India] that the worst and
most degrading species of corruption is the corrup-
tion which operates not by hopes but by fears."

And once in office under the spoils system, the
trembling possessor is induced to commit any act of
unmanly servility in the fear that he will be dismiss-
ed. And for the same reasons he does not venture
to disclose abuses going on around him, when to do
so would subject him to certain and instant dismissal
" for the good of the party."

The operation of such exciting hopes and fears
upon an unprincipled and morbid mind has had late-
ly a fearful illustration, at which the nation still
shudders ; — but who shall say that the utter demor-
alization and destruction of the better nature of men,
by politics under the spoils system, did not find a
natural outcome in the murder, — under a confusion
of hope and revenge concerning office, — of a blame-
less and patriotic President ?

Sentences to beggary and distress, to which death
would be almost a relief, have been not infrequent,
under the form of dismissal from minor offices, for
no other cause than to carry out the system that con-
verts public trusts of power into the spoils of party

Mr. Webster was remarkable not only for the
eloquence and power of his speeches, but for the


candor and honorable frankness with which he
expressed himself. The intent is transparent in all
he ever said or wrote, that he always felt himself
bound to give his real opinions, and these well

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Online LibraryThomas F. (Thomas Francis) BayardOration pronounced on Webster commemoration day June 28, 1882, at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire → online text (page 3 of 4)