Thomas Hart Benton.

Mr. Benton's letter to Maj. Gen. Davis, of the state of Mississippi, declining the nomination of the convention of that state; defending the nomination of Mr. Van Buren for the presidency; and recommending harmony, concert, and union, to the Democratic part of the United States online

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Online LibraryThomas Hart BentonMr. Benton's letter to Maj. Gen. Davis, of the state of Mississippi, declining the nomination of the convention of that state; defending the nomination of Mr. Van Buren for the presidency; and recommending harmony, concert, and union, to the Democratic part of the United States → online text (page 1 of 2)
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Recommending Harmony, Concert and Union, to the Democratic
Party of the United States.

Washutoton City, January 1st, 1835.
Dkak Sir, — We have learned that you have declined permitting- your name to be used,
IS a candidate for the Vice Presidency of the United State?, and that you have addressed a
letter to that effect, some time since, to the Committee of th'i State Convention of Mississpipi,
by whom you were nominate, d for that high ofRc:;. It will be a considerable time befo;e your
ietermi nation, communicited through that channel, can be known to the People of the United
States; we tlierePore request the favor of a copy of your letter, if you retained one, for pub-
lication at thii place, in order that your friends elsewhere, as well »s in Mississippi, may have
\n early opportunity of turnings their attention to some other suitable person.
Yours, with great respect,

BOBT. T. LY1 LE, (of Ohio,)
HBN'RV HUBB\UU, (of Nt-w Hampshire,)
RATLIFF BOON, (of Indiana,)
H. A. MUHLENBERG, (of Penns)Ivama.)
Honorable Twos. H. Bsntost.

Washington^ City, January 2.1, 1835.

Gkntlemes, — I hei'ewith send you a copy of my letter, declining the nom nation of the

Mississippi State Convention, for the ^'ice Presidency of the V. States.Fairness towards my poli-

ical friends in every part of the Union, required me to let them know at once what my deter-

nination was;andthis''I have done in many private letters, and in all the conversations which

have held on the subject. 'I'he nomination in Mississippi was the first one which came from

I State Convention, and therefore the first one which seemed to me to justify a public letter,
md to present the question in such a form as would save me irom the ridicule of declining what
\o Sta'e had offered. The letter to Mississippi was intended for publication, to save my
riends any farther trouble on my account. It was expected to reach, in its circuit, my friends

II every quarter; and as you suggest that it must be a considerable time before it could
eturn from tlie State of Mississippi through the newspapers, and that in the me ml ime, my
riends elsewhere, m'ght wish earlier information, that they might turn their attention to some
ther pei'son, I cheerfully comply with your request, and furnish the copy for publication here.

Yours, respectfully,

4e9sr3. R, T. Lytle, H Hub baud,
R. Boon, and H. A. Mchlkmberc. •^Cfis^^— -

^^-— Oq 5^


Washington City, Dec. 16th, 1834.

Dear Sir: Your kind letter of the 8th ultimo has been duly received, and
I take great pleasure in returning you my thanks for the friendship you have
shewn me, and which I shall be happy to acknowledge by acts, rather than words,
whenever an opportunity shall occur.

The recommendation for the Vice Presidency of the United States, which the
Democratic Convention of your State has done me the honor to make, is, in the
highest degree, flattering and honorable to me, and commands the expression of
my deepest gratitude; but, justice to myself, and to our political friends, requires
me to say at once, and with the candor, and decision, which rejects all disguise,
and palters [with no retraction, that I cannot consent to go upon the list of can-
didates for the eminent oflice for which I have been proposed.

I consider the ensuing election for President, and Vice President, as one
among the most important that ever took place in our country; ranking with that
of 1800, when the democratic principle iirst triumphed in the person of Mr.
Jefferson, and with the two elections of 1828, and 1832, when the same principle
again triumphed in the person of General Jackson; and I should look upon all the
advantages recovered for the constitution, and the people, in these two last tri-
umphs, as lost, and gone, unless the democracy of the Union shall again triumph
in the election of 1836. To succeed in that election, will require the most per-
fect harmony, and union, among ourselves. To secure this union and harmony,
we must have as few aspirants for the offices of President, and Vice President,
as possible; and, to diminish the number of these aspirants, I, for one, shall refuse
to go upon the list: and will remain in the ranks of tlie voters, ready to support
the cause of democracy, by supporting the election of the candidates which shall
be selected by a General Convention of the democratic party.

But, while respectfully declining, for myself, the highly honorable and ffatter-
ing recommendation of your convention, I take a particular pleasure in express-
ing the gratification which I feel, at seeing ^he nomination which you hiive made
in favor of Mr. Van Buren. I have known that gentleman long, and intimately.
We entered the Senate of the United States together, thirteen years ago, sat six
years in seats next to each other, were always personally friendly, generally acted
together on leading subjects, and always interchanged communications, and re-
ciprocated confidence; and thus, occupying a position to give me an opportunity
of becoming thoroughly acquainted whith liis principles, and character, the result
of the whole has been, that I have long since considered him, and so indicated
him to my friends, as the most fit, and suitable person to fill the presidental
chair after the expiration of President Jackson's second term. In political prin-
ciples he is thoroughly democratic, and comes as near the Jeftersonian standard
as any statesman now on the stage of public life. In abilities, experience, and
business habits, he is beyond the reach of cavil, or dispute. Personally he is in-
attackable; for the whole volume of his private life contains not a single act which
requires explanation, or defence. In constitutional temperament he is peculiarly
adapted to the station, and the times; for no human being could be more free from
every taint of envy, malignity, or revenge; or, could possess, in a more eminent
degree, that happy conjunction of firmness of purpose, with suavity of manners,
which contributes so much to the successful administration of public affairs, and
is so essential, and becoming, in a high public functionary. The State from which

he comes, and of which, successive elections for two and twenty years prove him
to be the favorite son, is also to be taken into the account in the list of his recom-
mendations; that great State which, in the eventful struggle of 1800, turned
the scales of the presidential election in favor of Mr. Jefferson, — which has sun-
ported every democratic administration from that day to this; a State which now
numbers two millions of inhabitants, — gives forty-two votes in the presidential
election, — and never saw one of her own sons exalted to the presidential office.

But what has he done? What has Mr. Van Buren done, that he should be
elected President? This is the inquiry, as flippantly, as ignorantly, put by those
who would veil, or disparage the merits of this gentleman; when it would be
much more regular and pertinent to ask, what has such a man as this done, that
he should not be made President? — But, to answer the intpiiry as put: It might,
perhaps, be sufficient, so far at least as the comparative merits of competitors are
concerned, to point to his course in the Senate of the United States during the
eight years that he sat in that body; and to his conduct since in the high offices
to which he has been called by his native State, by President Jackson, and by
the American People. Tliis might be sufficient between Mr. Van Buren and
others; but it would not be sufficient for himself. Justice to him would require
the answer to go further back, — to the war of 1812, — when he was a member
of the New York Senate; when the fate of Mr. Madison's administration,
and of the Union itself, depended upon the conduct of that great State, — great
in men and means, — and greater in position, a frontier to New England and to
Canada, — to British arms and Hartford Convention treason; — and when that
conduct, to the dismay of every patriot bosom, was seen to hang, for nearly two
years, in the doubtful scales of suspense. The federalists had the majoiity in
the House of Representatives; the democracy had the Senate and the Governor;
and for two successive sessions no measure could be adopted in support of the
war. Every aid proposed by the Governor and Senate, was rejected by the
House of Representatives. Every State paper issued by one, was answered by
the other. Contiimal disagreements took place; innumerable conferences were
had; the Hall of the House of Representatives was the scene of contestation;
and every conference was a public exhibition of parliamentary conflict, — a pub-
lic trial of intellectual digladiation, — in which each side, represented by com-
mittees of iis ablest men, and in the presence of both Houses, and of assembled
multitudes, exerted itself to the utmost to justify itself, and to put the other in the
wrong, to operate upon public opinion, govern the impending elections, and
acquire the ascendency in the ensuing legislature. Mr. Van Buren, then a young
man, had just entered the Senate at the commencement of this extraordinary
struggle. He entered it, November, 1812; and had just distinguished himself
in the oppositicm of his county to the renewal of the first national Bank charter, —
in the support of Vice President Clinton for giving the casting vote- against \\ —
and in his noble support of Governor Tompkins, for his Roman energy in pro-
roguing the General Assembly, (April, 1812,) which could not otherwise be
prevented from receiving, and embodying, the transmigratory soul of that de-
funct institution, and giving it a new existence, in a new place, under an altered
name, and modified form. He was politically born out of this conflict, and came
into the legislature against the Bank, and for the war. He was the man which
the occasion required; the ready writer, — prompt debater, — ^judicious counsellor;
courteous in manners, — fii-m in purpose, — inflexible in principles. He contrived
the measures, — brought forward the bills and reports, — delivered the speeches, —
and drew the State papers, (especially the powerful address to the republican
voters of the State,) which, eventually, vanquished the federal party, turned
the doubtful scales, and gave the elections of April, 1814, to the friends and
supporters of Madison and the war; an event, the intelligence of which was re-
ceived at Washington with an exultation only inferior to that with which was
received the news of the victory of New Orleans. The new Legislature, now


democratic in both branches, was quickly convened by Governor Tompkins; and
Mr. Van Buren had the honor to bring forward, and carry through, amidst the ap-
plauses of patriots, and the denunciation of the anti-war party, the most ener-
getic war measure ever adopted in our America, — the classification bill, as he
called it, the cojiscription bill, as they called it. By this bill, the provisions of
which, by a new and summary process, were so contrived as to act upon proper-
ty, as well as upon persons, an army of twelve thousand State troops, were im-
mediately to be raised; to serve for two years, and to be placed at the disposition
of the General Government. The peace which was signed in the last days of
December, 1814, rendered this great measure of New York inoperative; but its
merit was acknowledged by all patriots at the time; the principle of it was adopt-
ed by Mr. Madison's administration; recommended by the Secretary at War,
Mr. Monroe, to the Congress of the United States, and found by that body too
energetic to be passed. To complete his course in support of the war, and to
crown his meritorious labors to bring it to a happy close, it became Mr. Van Bu-
ren's fortune to draw up the vote of thanks of the greatest State in the Union, to
ihe greatest General which the war had produced, — " the thanks of the New Fork
legislature to Major General Jacksox, his gallant officers and troops, for their
wonderful, and heroic victory, in defence of the grand emporium of the West.'''
Such was the appropriate conclusion to iiis patriotic services in support of the
war: services, to be sure, not rivalling in splendor the heroic achievements of
victorious arms; but services, nevertheless, both honorable, and meritorious, in
their place; and without which battles cannot be fought, victories cannot be won,
nor countries be saved. Martial renown, it is true, he did not acquire, nor at-
tempt; but the want of that fascination to his name can hardly be objected to him,
in these days, when the political ascendency of military chieftains is so patheti-
cally deplored, and when the entire perils of the republic are supposed to be
compressed into the single danger of a military despotism.

Such is the answer, in brief, and in part, to the flippant inquiry. What has
he doner

The vote in the Senate, for the tariff of 1 828, has sometimes been objected to
Mr. Van Buren; but witii how much ignorance of the truth, let facts attest.

He was the first eminent member of Congress, north of the Potomac, to open
the war, at the right point, upon that tariff of 1828, then undergoing the process
of incubation through the instrumentality of a Convention to sit at Harrisburg.
His speech at Albany, in July, 1827, opeidy characterized that measure as a po-
litical manoeuvre to influence the impending presidential election; and the graphic
expression, '^ a measure proceeding more from the closet of the politician
than from, the workshop of the manufacturer," so opportunely and felicitously
used in that speech, soon became the opinion of the public, and subsequently
received the impress of verification from the abandonment, and the manner of
abandoning, of the whole fabric of the high tariff policy. Failing to carry any
body into the Presidential chair, its doom pronounced by the election of Jackson
and Van Buren,'- it was abandoned, as it had been created, upon a political cal-
culation; and expired under ?ifiat emanating, not from the tvorkshop of the man-
ufacturer, but l^i-om the closet of the politician. — True, that Mr. Van Buren
voted for the tariff of 1828, notwithstanding his speech of 1827; but, equally
true, that he voted under instructions from his State Legislature, and in obedi-
ence to the great democratic principle {demos, the people, kraleo, to govern) which
has always formed a distinguishing feature, and a dividing land-mark, between
the two great political parties which, under whatsoever name, have always exist-
ed, and still exist, in our country. — Sitting in the chair next to him at the time of
that vote, voting as he did, and upon the same principle; interchanging opinions
without reserve, or disguise, it comes within the perception of my own senses to

*Over the high tariff' champions, Clay and Sergeant.

know, that he felt great repugnance to the provisions of that tariff act of '28, and
voted for it, as I did, in obedience to a principle which we both hold sacred.

No public man, since the days of Mr. Jefferson, has been pursued with more
bitterness than Mr. Van Buren; none, not excepting Mr. Jefferson himself, has
ever had to withstand the combined assaults 'ot so many, and such formidable
powers. His prominent position, in relation to the next Presidency, has drawn
upon him the general attack of other candidates, — themselves as well as their
friends; for, in diese days, (how different from former times!) candidates for the
Presidency are seen to take the field for themselves, — banging away at their com-
petitors, — sounding the notes of their own applause, — and dealing in the tricks,
and cant, of veteran cross-road, or alehouse, electioneerers. His old opposi-
tion, and early declaration (1826) against the Bank of the United States, has
brought upon him the pervading vengeance of that powerful institution; and sub-
jected him to the vicarious vituperation of subaltern assailants, inflamed with a
wrath, not their own, in whatsoever spot that terrific institution maintains a
branch, or a press, retains an adherent, or holds a debtor. (It was under the
stimulus, and predictions of the Bank press, that Mr. Van Buren was rejected
by the Senate in 1832.) Yet in all this combination of powers against him, and
in all these unrelenting attacks, there is no specification of misconduct. All is
vague, general, indefinite, mysterious. Mr. Crawford, the most open, direct,
and palpable of public men, was run down upon the empty cry of ''giant at
intriguer^ ii second edition of that cry, now stereotyped for harder use, is ex-
pected to perform the same service upon Mr. Van Buren; while tlie ongmators
and repeaters of the cry, in both instances, have found it equally impossible to
specify a case of intrigue in the life of one, or the other, of these gentlemen.

Safety fund banks, is another of those cries raised against him; as if there was
any thing in the system of those banks to make the banking system worse; or, as
if the money, and politics of these safety fund banks, were at the service ot Mr.
Van Buren. On the contrary, it is not even pretended by his enemies that he
owns a single dollar of stock in any one of these banks! and I have been fre-
quently informed, from sources entitled to my confidence, that he does not own a
dollar of interest in any bank in the world] that he has wholly abstained from
becoming the owner of any bank stock, or taking an interest in any company,
incorporated by the Legislature, since he first became a member of that body,
above two-and-twenty years ago. And as for the politics of the safety tund
banks, it has been recently, and authentically ^hown that a vast majority of them
are un;:ler the control of his most determined and active political opponents-

No public man has been more opposed to the extension of the banking system
than Mr. Van Buren. The journals of the New York Legislature show that the
many years during which he was a prominent member of that body, he exerted
himself in a continued and zealous opposition to the increase of banks; and, upon
h,is elevation to the Chief Magistracy of the State, finding the system of banks so
incorporatet! with the business and interests of the People, as to render its
abolishment impossible, he turned his attention to its improvement, and to the
establishment of such guards against fraudulent, or even unfortunate bankruptcy,
as would, under all circumstances, protect the holders of notes against loss. The
safety fund system was the result of views of this kind; and if its complete suc-
cess hitherto (for no bank has failed under it,) and the continued support and con-
fidence of the representatives of two millions of people, are not sufficient to attest
its efficacy, there is one consideration at least, which should operate so far in its
favor as to save it from the sneers of those who cannot tell what the safety fund
system is; and that is, the perfect ease and composure with which the whole of
these banks rode out the storm of Senatorial and United States Bank assault,
panic, and pressure, upon them last winter! This consideration should save Mr.
Van Buren from the censure of some people, if it cannot attract their applause.
^ For the rest, he is a real hard money man; opposed to the paper system — in favor
of a national currency of gold — in favor of an adequate silver currency for com-

mon use — against the small note currency — and in favor of confining bank notes
to their appropriate sphere and original function, that of large notes for large
transactions, and mercantile operations.

Non-committal, is another of the flippant phrases, got by rote, and parroted
against Mr. Van Buren. He never commits himself, say these veracious observ-
ers! he never shows his hand, till he sees which way the game is going! Is this
true? Is there any foundation for it? On the contrary, is it not contradicted by
public and notorious facts? by the uniform tenor of his entire public life for near
a quarter of a century? To repeat nothing of what has been said ot his opposi-
tion to the first Bank of the United States, his support of Vice President Clin-
ton for giving the casting vote against the recharter of that institution, his sup-
port of Governor Tompkins, in the extraordinary measure of proroguing the New
York Legislature, to prevent the metempsychosis of the Bank, and its revivifi-
cation, in the City of New York; to repeat nothing of all this, and of his
undaunted and brilliant support of the war, from its beginning to its end, I shall
refer only to what has happened in my own time, and under my own eyes. His
firm, and devoted, support of Mr. Crawford, in the contest of 1824, when that
eminent citizen, prostrate with disease, and inhumanly assailed, seemed to be
doomed to inevitable defeat; was that non-connnittal? His early espousal of Gen-
eral Jackson's cause, after the election in the House of Representatives, in Feb-
ruary, 1825, and his steadfast opposition to Mr. Adams's administration; was that
non-committal? His prominent stand against the Panama Mission, when that
mission was believed to be irresistibly popular, and was pressed upon the Senate
to crush the opposition members; was that also a wily piece of non-committal
policy? His declaration against the Bank of the United States in the year 1826;
was that the conduct of a man waiting to see the issue before he could take his
side? The removal of the deposites,and the panic scene of last winter, in which
so many gave way, and so many others folded their arms until the struggle was
over, while Mr. Van Buren, both by his own conduct, and that of his friends,
gave an undaunted support to that masterly stroke of the President; is this also
to be called a non-committal line of conduct, and the evidence of a temper that
sees the issue before it decides? The fact is, this ridiculous and nonsensical
charge, is so unfounded and absurd, so easily refuted, and not only refuted, but
turned to the honor and advantage of Mr. Van Buren, that his friends might have
ran the risk of being suspected of having invented it themselves, and put it into
circulation, just to give some others of his friends a brilliant opportunity of embla -
zoning his merits! were it not that the blind enmity of his competitors has put
the accusation upon record, and enabled his friends to exculpate themselves, and
to prove home the original charge against his undisputed opponents.

For one thing Mr. Van Buren has reason to be thankiul to his enemies; it is,
for having began the war upon him so soon! There is time enough yet for truth
and justice to do their office, and to dispel every cloud of prejudice which the
jealousy of rivals, the vengeance of the Bank, and the ignorance of dupes, has
hung over his name.

Union, harmony, self-denial, concession, — every thing for the cause, nothing
for men, — should be the watchword, and motto of the democratic party.

Disconnected from the election, — a voter, and not a candidate, — having no
object in view but to preserve the union of the democratic party, and to prevent
the administration of the public affairs from relapsing into hands that would undo
every thing; hands that would destroy every limit to the constitution, by latitudi-
nous constructions, — which would replunge the country into debt, and taxes,
by the reckless, wilful, systematic, ungovernable, headlong, stubborn, support
of every wasteful and extravagant expenditure, — that would re-deliver the coun-
try into the hands of an institution which has proved the scourge of the people —
and which would instantly revive the dominion of paper money, by arresting
the progress of the gold and silver currency: having no object in view but to pre-
vent these calamities, 1 may be permitted to say a word, without incurring the

imputation of speaking from interested motives, on the vital point of union in the
democratic party.


Online LibraryThomas Hart BentonMr. Benton's letter to Maj. Gen. Davis, of the state of Mississippi, declining the nomination of the convention of that state; defending the nomination of Mr. Van Buren for the presidency; and recommending harmony, concert, and union, to the Democratic part of the United States → online text (page 1 of 2)