William D. (William Darrah) Kelley.

Speeches of Hon. William D. Kelley. Replies of the Hon. William D. Kelley to George Northrop, Esq., in the joint debate in the Fourth Congressional District online

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man's great prototype. Clement L. Vallandigham. of Ohio. He. too. thought that we ought
to have gone to war with England about the Trent case. He, too, taunted the supporters of
the Administration with the, fact that Congress had adopted a resolution of thanks to Com-
modore Wilkes, and that the Secretary of the Navy had written him a letter of qualified com-
mendation, and yet that the prisoners whom he had arrested had been surrendered. 1 have
no doubt that my friend put his argument as powerfully as Vallandigham did, I nit, as 1 say.
it did not impress me so much, because it was not so novel as when 1 heard it from the lips
of that eminent McClellan Democrat,. I have here a copy of the brief speech which 1 made
on that occasion, the first of my Congressional efforts, and 1 propose to answer my friend as I
answered his friend Mr. Vallandigham. On the 7th of January, 1862, 1 said: —

" I voted in common with the whole House for the thanks to Captain Wilkes. 1 know that
since then the four persons he captured have been surrendered, yet 1 do not regret that vote.
It was well cast, and I do not mean to say that, the surrender was not well made. Captain
Wilkes was an experienced officer of our navy — a service deeply disgraced by a, want of de-
votion to their country on the part of many of its officers. He saw what he believed to be
his duty, and he paused not to consider whether it involved personal consequences, but, as
he understood it, performed that duty; he performed it in a manner creditable alike to his
head and his heart; firmly, thoroughly, but in a manner marked by humanity and considera-
tion for the feelings and interests of innocent passengers on board the Trent and the neces-
sities of an age of steam navigation. Congress, without qualification, indorsed that act. Not
so with the Administration." (My friend said that, the Administration had approved the
act.) '' While the Secretary of the Navy approved the act, he admonished the actor that it
must not be considered a precedent for the surrender of another vessel under like circum-
stances. The Administration saw that Captain Wilkes's act, of humanity might be taken
advantage of by such a power as England, and it marked at once its discriminating apprecia-
tion of the conduct of its officer, and of the nation with which it had to do, by the just quali-
fication of its approval. As a member of the American Congress I do, from the bottom of
my heart, thank Captain Wilkes for his gallant and humane conduct.

"The gentleman from Ohio [Mr. Vallandigham] seems to be eager for a war with England.
Sir, war is as dire a calamity as <-;m befall a people. It is the most expensive game at which
kings can play; the most destructive pursuit in which a people can engage. The figure of a
candle lighted at both ends affords but an imperfect illustration of the wastefulness of war.''

1 closed these remarks on the 7th of January, 1862, when Geo. 1!. McOlellan commanded
our army, by saying: — ■

" I thank the Government that, in the hour of its agony, it stood upon our historical doc-
trine. I thank it that it honorably avoided war with England ; and 1 pray God thai it may so
far read the laws of war as to learn that it is the duty of Congress, the Generals at the head
of the several columns of the army and the Government of the United States, to cut off all
ih,' resources of the rebels noio in arms against lis. It is the first and last law of war. Its
thorough enforcement is called for by all the promptings of patriotism and humanity, ami
promises internal and external peace to our distracted country."

Now, what was the Trent case? A mail steamer in the British service carried two minis-
ters of a power that had been recognized by England as a belligerent power — the rebels in
arms against our government. Commodore Wilkes brought that vessel to ; he found thai it
had a mail and a very large number of passengers hastening on various duties over the
ocean. lie took from on board the rebel commissioners and their secretaries, and then let
the vessel continue its voyage. No good lawyer doubts that, had he detained vessel, passen-
gers and all, his act would have been strictly legal. But from considerations of humanity to
the passengers, he permitted the vessel to go its way, taking from it those who were contra-
band, and whose presence would have justified the seizure and detention of the vessel. By
so letting the vessel depart he brought the case within the law of search, against which our
war of 1812 had been waged, and did an act in violation of the precedents of American history.
Our government knowing that they could not fight the rebellion and England at the same
time — knowing that to go to war with England would be to cause the division of our country
and establish on our frontier a hostile confederacy, and further, and more important in this
connection, that they would be fighting such war with England in the very teeth of the doc-
trine on which we fought the war of 1812, William II. Seward, Secretary of State, vindicated
the traditions of our history by saying that he still stood for the freedom of the seas, and
against the right of search, and that Admiral Wilkes had made a mistake, not in arresting
the vessel, but in letting it go, and so bringing the case within the condemnation of em- own
doctrine. Thus the matter was settled.

My friend would, undoubtedly, have rejoiced — peace man as he is. and opposed as he is to
the use of bayonets — had we become involved in a war with England, because war with Eng-
land, whose base of supplies would have been on the Canada side of the lakes, would probably
have established the Southern Confederacy, for which he has such acute sympathy. You re-
member how he has poured out floods of sympathy for the Southern people. How he painted
their desolated fields, their roofless homes, and even went so far as to call our army a band of
freebooters, and charged them with having stolen the slaves, silver, horses, and other property
of those towards whom his sympathies flow so exuberantly. He appealed to us in Cod's name,
to say whether the time had not come when we should pause in our triumphal career, and give
them time to think. I shall not answer his appeal, but a greater than 1 will. Gen. William T.
Sherman, who was at the head of a Southern military academy when secession and war were
determined upon, and who resigned his position because lie owed allegiance to the Constitu-
tion and flag of his country, has recently had a correspondence with Gen. Hood, of the Con-
federate army. Gen. Sherman does not agree with my distinguished competitor in consider-
ing the fact that men of New England will think and will speak their thoughts, a just cause
for this war. In the first letter to which I shall call your attention, he makes this rejoinder
to Gen. Hood : —

" In the name of common sense, I ask you not to appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious
manner. You, who in the midst of peace and prosperity, have plunged a nation into war,
'dark and cruel war;' who dared and badgered us to battle; insulted our flag; seized oar
arsenals and forts that were left in the honorable custody of a peaceful ordnance sergeant ;
seized and made prisoners of war the very garrisons sent to protect your people asrainst
negroes and Indians; long before any overt act was committed by the (to you) hateful Cm-
coin Government; tried to force Kentucky and Missouri into rebellion despite of themselves;
falsified the vote of Louisiana, turned loose your privateers to plunder unarmed ships, expelled
Union families by the thousands, burned their homes, and declared, by an act of- your Congress,
the confiscation of all debts due to Northern men for goods had and received I Talk this to
the marines, but not to me, who have seen these things, and who will this day make as great
sacrifice for the peace and honor of the South as the best Southerner anion? you."

It appears from this that Gen. Hood hates the " Lincoln Government" almost as badly as my
competitor. But Gen. Hood, finding that he could make no more out of Sherman with his pen
than he had with his sword, sent the Mayor and Councilman of Atlanta to him, to request
him not to send the women, old men, and children out of the city. These rebel functionaries
appealed to Sherman, just as my competitor appealed to you last night. They were defending
the same bad cause— that of the Southern Confederacy against the North and its people,

and the flag and Constitution of the country. The identical appeals that were made by those
Confederate rebels have been made here by my distinguished friend, whose sympathy with
them is so unbounded. But let Sherman demonstrate this : —

"Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, in the Field, Atlanta, Sept. 12.
1864. — James M. Calhoun, Mayor, E. E. Raivson and S. C. Wells, representing City Cmturil
of Atlanta. Gentlemen : I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke
my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full
credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it, and yet shall not revoke
my orders, simply because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but
1d prepare for the future struggle in which millions, yea hundreds of millions, of good people
outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have peace, not only in Atlanta, but in
all America. To secure this we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and
favored country. To stop war we must defeat the rebel armies that are arrayed against the
laws and Constitution which all men must respect and obey. To defeat these armies we
must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments
which enable us to accomplish our purpose.

" Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, and that we may have many years of
military operations from this quarter, and therefore deem it wise and prudent to prepare in
time. The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home
for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here for the mainte-
nance of families, and, sooner or later, want will compel the inhabitants to go. Why not go
now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting until the
plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past month ? Of course I
do not apprehend any such thing at this moment, but you do not suppose this army will be
here till the war is over? I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot
impart to you what I propose to do; but I assert that my military plans make it necessary
for the inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus
in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible. You cannot qualify war in harsher terms
than I will.

"War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war on our country
deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. 1 know I had no hand in
making this war, and I know that I will make more sacrifices than any of you to-day to secure
peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States sub-
mits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on till we reap the fate of Mexico, which
is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority wherever it has power;
if it relaxes one bit of pressure, it is gone, and I know that such is not the national feeling.
This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union. Once admit
the Union, once more acknowledge the authority of the National Government, and instead of
devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war, I and this army become
at once your protectors and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what
quarter it may. 1 know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion
such as has swept the South into rebellion ; but you can point out, so that we may know those
who desire a Government, and those who insist on war and its desolation.

"You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as againsl the terrible hardships of
war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live
in peace and quiet at home is to stop this war. which can alone be done by admitting that it
began in error, and is perpetuated in pride. We don't want your negroes, or your horses, or
your houses, or your land, or anything you have ; but we do want and will have a just obedience
to the laws of the United States. That we will have; and if it involves the destruction of
your improvements, we cannot help it. You have heretofore read public sentiment in your
newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement, and the quicker yon seek for truth in other
quarters the better for you.

" 1 repeat, then, that, by the original compact of government, the United States had certain
rights in (Georgia which have never been relinquished, and never will be: that the South be-
gun war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc. etc.. long before Mr. Lincoln
was installed, and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. 1. myself, have seen
in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and
children, fleeing from your armies ami desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In .Mem-
phis, Vicksburg and Mississippi, we. fed thousands upon thousands of the families of rebel
soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes home to
you, you feel scry different — you deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent
car loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Ken-
tucky and Tennessee, and desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people, who
only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance.
But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it only can be reached through
Union and war, and I will ever conduct war purely with a view to perfect an early success.

" But, my dear sirs, when that peace does come you may call on me for anything. Then
will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your home and families

against danger from every quarter. Now, you must go, and take with yon the old and Fe
feed and nurse them, and build for them in more quiel place,s proper habitations to shield
them against the weather, until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow the Union and
peace once more to settle on your old homes at Atlanta.

"Yours, in haste.

"W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General."

Does not that letter respond most aptly to the fervid appeal with which my friend closed
his last address? The traitors who drew that letter from Gen. Sherman must have uttered just
the appeal by which he attempted to induce you to consent to peace and separation, or peace
even if it involved separation.

I am for sustaining Sherman. I am not in favor of an armistice and of giving back to the
freebooting Confederacy, with which we were threatened, the fifteen guns that Ord took yes-
terday, or those that Birney may take in his march toward Richmond ; for the news is thai
Grant has flanked Petersburg, and is again onward to Richmond. Richmond is part of my
country ; and I want to visit it wheu the star-lit flag again illuminates the dome of its < lapitol.
Now that we have got the issues involved in the war and coming election fairly stated and
see that they are identical — now that you know my views and those of my friend as to the set-
tlement of those issues, the time has come for me to answer his propositions and interroga-

To his first and second propositions he admits that I have replied. To the third. I made a
partial reply; and at the risk of reiterating some of my remarks. 1 recur to it. it is this:
'• Whenever any department of government exercises any power beyond or antagonistic to the
Constitution, it is revolution." I deny the proposition. Worcester defines a revolution to
be "an extensive change in the political institutions of a country, accomplished in a short time,
whether by legal or illegal means." Now. a single department of our government may per-
form an unconstitutional act that only one individual will feel ; and that individual may. as
I told you the other night, go into court and obtain redress. That would certainly not lie a
revolution. A President and his Cabinet might adopt a line of policy which a large number
of men, even a majority of the people, would believe to be unconstitutional; and yet at the
end of four years from his inauguration, the people could remove him. or they could impeach
him through the two Houses of Congress, in either event, unconstitutional as his policy
might be, it would not be a revolution. If the .Southern members had remained in the I touse
and the Senate, and Abraham Lincoln had done any unconstitutional act, they had the Senate
so thoroughly, and so clear a working majority in the House, that they could have impeached
him at any day during his Presidential term. It was only by their withdrawal that his
friends obtained the control of Congress. As I have already said, our courts were estab-
lished, and the power of impeachment provided, and elections ordered at brief intervals, to
furnish certain remedies for any unconstitutional acts. We have, everj two years, an elec-
tion of Congressmen, and every four years an election of President, so as to enable the people
to correct any error of that kind. Gen. Jackson removed the deposits from the Bank of the
United States; and every member of that party of which my competitor was for a Long time
so distinguished an ornament — the old Whig party — howled that Gen. Jackson had violated
the Constitution. Henry Clay, Webster, the Southern Whigs, the Western Whigs, all
opposed that act a.- violative of the Constitution. 1 remember hearing David Crockett,
George McDuffie, William C. Preston, and nearly a score of other members of that party
speak at the Philadelphia Exchange, and denounce the unconstitutional acts of Andrew
Jackson. Who says now that Andrew Jackson revolutionized the government'.'' Will my
friend say so ? I would like to hear from him on that question. There was a disagreement as
to what the Constitution meant, and it was executed as understood by those who were in
power. It belonged to them to execute it. and they must lie governed by their understanding —
not that of others. Should McClellan be elected, the Democrats will construe il in the future
"as in the past." That the people did not believe that Andrew Jackson had violated the
Constitution is shown by the fact that they not only re-elected him. but elected Martin Van
Buren, his nominee, to succeed him. whose pledge, made in his [naugural, so satisfactory to
the Democrats of the country, was that he would "tread in the footsteps of his illustrious

To the Whigs of those days the acts of Jackson were unconstitutional, as those of Lincoln
are to my friend and his brother Peace Democrats ; but because the A\" Diu s believed his policy
to be unconstitutional, was it revolution? Will my friend tell you that it was? So of many
acts and periods of our history to which I might refer you; but I select a very striking one.
You can nowhere find in the Constitution (and I challenge my friend to point it out] authority
given to t he President of the United States to acquire territory without the consent of Congress
or the people. Yet how did we acquire the Louisiana territory — comprising not only the
State of Louisiana, but that magnificent territory sweeping northward from the Gulf to the
Lake of the Woods, embracing in its amplitude Iowa and Minnesota as well as Louisiana and
Mississippi ? Did the people ever vote in favor of that measure ? Did they elect a Congress
to adopt it? No ; the President of the United States, without authority, bought it from Prance,
and agreed to pay $15,000,000 for it. That President was not Abraham Lincoln; nor Wm.

Henry Harrison; nor cither of the Adamses. He was Thomas Jefferson, the founder and
father of the Democratic party; and his greatest biographer says that "he violated the Con-
stitution to save the country," because the occupation of the Louisiana territory by a foreign
would have involved us in perpetual war. The Government that held that territory had
the power to control the commerce of the Mississippi. You know how effectually that com-
merce was stopped when Vicksburg and Port Hudson were in the hands of those whose
sufferings so touch the tender sympathies of my distinguished competitor. There was that
river, with its great branches, more than 50,000 miles long, draining an empire that may hold
five hundred millions of people — one branch, the Ohio, taking its rise in the prolific mountains
of our own dear Pennsylvania — others rising in each of the Northwestern States — others rising
in the Southern border-States. More than fifty thousand miles of river, more than thirty
thousand miles of which have already been navigated by steam, were, or might be, locked
up by the possession of the Louisiana territory; and Thomas Jefferson, regardless of the
rest mints of the Constitution, having an opportunity to buy that territory, when Napoleon
felt that by selling it he would aggrandize the future commercial rival of England, and supply
himself with " the sinews of war." bought it for the American people ; and so Thomas
Jefferson became the benefactor of his country and of mankind by transcending the restraints
of the Constitution. My distinguished friend would have you vote for him that, in Congress, he
may vote to give the fairest and most important pari of that same territory to a foreign Con-
federacy, and so again lock up the commerce of the Mississippi Valley and the Northwest !
He now, by the terms of his proposition, denounces Jefferson's act as revolutionary.

I thus deny the gentleman's third proposition, and show that it is preposterous. You
might as well say that, because one hob-nail has come out of your coarse boot, it is, there-
fore, no longer a boot. This would be quite as logical as my friend's proposition and argu-
ment. As Thomas Jefferson saved the country by one act transcending the Constitution, so,
in time of war, does it become the duty of the President to pursue a similar course, should the
necessity arise. You have no right to set fire to a man's house, though you be the Mayor of
the city, or though you be the Chief of the Fire Department, in consultation with the Mayor.
You have no right to break open a man's door,, and go into his house; but there may arise a
necessity which will justify you in blowing up the one or breaking into the other

There is, as Douglas demonstrated, such a thing- as a necessity. You see a house on fire.
You discover it by the fact that smoke is pouring through several crevices. In the neighbor-
hood is much inflammable matter — a board-yard, or a large number of frame buildings You
do not stop to ask who is the owner of the house, and to travel to a neighboring- town or dis-
tant watering-place to obtain his consent to go in ; but, regardless of the Constitution and the
laws, you bursl in the door, and enter and extinguish the fire. You take the risk of being
sued for a violation of the law. Take another case. A large portion of the city is in flames
in its most compact part. There are no steam fire engines. Your firemen are exhausted;
your supply of water is giving out. There must be a wide space put between the flames and
the remaining portion of the city. You have no right to blow up a man's house. There is
greal probability, but as the wind may change, not absolute certainty, that it will be burned.
But yon see that there is a probability of it so great that the law will justify you in carrying
kegs of powder into t lie cellars and blowing up every house in a whole block, or two blocks,
that you may save the remainder of the city. Not only may the Mayor or the Chief of the
Fire Department do this, but private citizens. Put with armed scoundrels burning our vil-
lages as they burned Chambersburg — with armed scoundrel- lighting us on our own soil, as
they fought us for three days at Gettysburg — my friend protests that he does not like the use
of bayonets, and thinks that we had better put them aside, for fear that we may violate the
Constitution and consummate a revolution. If you re-elect me to Congress again, may

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Online LibraryWilliam D. (William Darrah) KelleySpeeches of Hon. William D. Kelley. Replies of the Hon. William D. Kelley to George Northrop, Esq., in the joint debate in the Fourth Congressional District → online text (page 8 of 20)