The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster

Part 13 out of 25

sanctioned by the great men of that day. In every form, therefore, in
which the question can be raised, it has been raised and has been
settled. Every process and every mode of trial known to the Constitution
and laws have been exhausted, and always and without exception the
decision has been in favor of the validity of the law. But all this
practice, all this precedent, all this public approbation, all this
solemn adjudication directly on the point, is to be disregarded and
rejected, and the constitutional power flatly denied. And, Sir, if we
are startled at this conclusion, our surprise will not be lessened when
we examine the argument by which it is maintained.

By the Constitution, Congress is authorized to pass all laws "necessary
and proper" for carrying its own legislative powers into effect.
Congress has deemed a bank to be "necessary and proper" for these
purposes, and it has therefore established a bank. But although the law
has been passed, and the bank established, and the constitutional
validity of its charter solemnly adjudged, yet the President pronounces
it unconstitutional, because some of the powers bestowed on the bank
are, in his opinion, not necessary or proper. It would appear that
powers which in 1791 and in 1816, in the time of Washington and in the
time of Madison, were deemed "necessary and proper," are no longer to be
so regarded, and therefore the bank is unconstitutional. It has really
come to this, that the constitutionality of a bank is to depend upon the
opinion which one particular man may form of the utility or necessity of
some of the clauses in its charter! If that individual chooses to think
that a particular power contained in the charter is not necessary to the
proper constitution of the bank, then the act is unconstitutional!

Hitherto it has always been supposed that the question was of a very
different nature. It has been thought that the policy of granting a
particular charter may be materially dependent on the structure and
organization and powers of the proposed institution. But its general
constitutionality has never before been understood to turn on such
points. This would be making its constitutionality depend on subordinate
questions; on questions of expediency and questions of detail; upon that
which one man may think necessary, and another may not. If the
constitutional question were made to hinge on matters of this kind, how
could it ever be decided? All would depend on conjecture; on the
complexional feeling, on the prejudices, on the passions, of
individuals; on more or less practical skill or correct judgment in
regard to banking operations among those who should be the judges; on
the impulse of momentary interests, party objects, or personal purposes.
Put the question in this manner to a court of seven judges, to decide
whether a particular bank was constitutional, and it might be doubtful
whether they could come to any result, as they might well hold very
various opinions on the practical utility of many clauses of the

The question in that case would be, not whether the bank, in its general
frame, character, and objects, was a proper instrument to carry into
effect the powers of the government, but whether the particular powers,
direct or incidental, conferred on a particular bank, were better
calculated than all others to give success to its operations. For if
not, then the charter, according to this sort of reasoning, would be
unwarranted by the Constitution. This mode of construing the
Constitution is certainly a novel discovery. Its merits belong entirely
to the President and his advisers. According to this rule of
interpretation, if the President should be of opinion, that the capital
of the bank was larger, by a thousand dollars, than it ought to be; or
that the time for the continuance of the charter was a year too long; or
that it was unnecessary to require it, under penalty, to pay specie; or
needless to provide for punishing, as forgery, the counterfeiting of its
bills,--either of these reasons would be sufficient to render the
charter, in his opinion, unconstitutional, invalid, and nugatory. This
is a legitimate conclusion from the argument. Such a view of the subject
has certainly never before been taken. This train of reasoning has
hitherto not been heard within the halls of Congress, nor has any one
ventured upon it before the tribunals of justice. The first exhibition,
its first appearance, as an argument, is in a message of the President
of the United States.

According to that mode of construing the Constitution which was adopted
by Congress in 1791, and approved by Washington, and which has been
sanctioned by the judgment of the Supreme Court, and affirmed by the
practice of nearly forty years, the question upon the constitutionality
of the bank involves two inquiries. First, whether a bank, in its
general character, and with regard to the general objects with which
banks are usually connected, be, in itself, a fit means, a suitable
instrument, to carry into effect the powers granted to the government.
If it be so, then the second, and the only other question is, whether
the powers given in a particular charter are appropriate for a bank. If
they are powers which are appropriate for a bank, powers which Congress
may fairly consider to be useful to the bank or the country, then
Congress may confer these powers; because the discretion to be exercised
in framing the constitution of the bank belongs to Congress. One man may
think the granted powers not indispensable to the particular bank;
another may suppose them injudicious, or injurious; a third may imagine
that other powers, if granted in their stead, would be more beneficial;
but all these are matters of expediency, about which men may differ; and
the power of deciding upon them belongs to Congress.

I again repeat, Sir, that if, for reasons of this kind, the President
sees fit to negative a bill, on the ground of its being inexpedient or
impolitic, he has a right to do so. But remember, Sir, that we are now
on the constitutional question; remember that the argument of the
President is, that, because powers were given to the bank by the charter
of 1816 which he thinks unnecessary, that charter is unconstitutional.
Now, Sir, it will hardly be denied, or rather it was not denied or
doubted before this message came to us, that, if there was to be a bank,
the powers and duties of that bank must be prescribed in the law
creating it. Nobody but Congress, it has been thought, could grant
these powers and privileges, or prescribe their limitations. It is true,
indeed, that the message pretty plainly intimates, that the President
should have been _first_ consulted, and that he should have had the
framing of the bill; but we are not yet accustomed to that order of
things in enacting laws, nor do I know a parallel to this claim, thus
now brought forward, except that, in some peculiar cases in England,
highly affecting the royal prerogative, the assent of the monarch is
necessary before either the House of Peers, or his Majesty's faithful
Commons, are permitted to act upon the subject, or to entertain its
consideration. But supposing, Sir, that our accustomed forms and our
republican principles are still to be followed, and that a law creating
a bank is, like all other laws, to originate with Congress, and that the
President has nothing to do with it till it is presented for his
approval, then it is clear that the powers and duties of a proposed
bank, and all the terms and conditions annexed to it, must, in the first
place, be settled by Congress.

This power, if constitutional at all, is only constitutional in the
hands of Congress. Anywhere else, its exercise would be plain
usurpation. If, then, the authority to decide what powers ought to be
granted to a bank belong to Congress, and Congress shall have exercised
that power, it would seem little better than absurd to say, that its
act, nevertheless would be unconstitutional and invalid, if, in the
opinion of a third party, it had misjudged, on a question of expediency,
in the arrangement of details. According to such a mode of reasoning, a
mistake in the exercise of jurisdiction takes away the jurisdiction. If
Congress decide right, its decision may stand; if it decide wrong, its
decision is nugatory; and whether its decision be right or wrong,
another is to judge, although the original power of making the decision
must be allowed to be exclusively in Congress. This is the end to which
the argument of the message will conduct its followers.

Sir, in considering the authority of Congress to invest the bank with
the particular powers granted to it, the inquiry is not, and cannot be,
how appropriate these powers are, but whether they be at all
appropriate; whether they come within the range of a just and honest
discretion; whether Congress may fairly esteem them to be necessary. The
question is not, Are they the fittest means, the best means? or whether
the bank might not be established without them; but the question is, Are
they such as Congress, _bona fide_, may have regarded as appropriate to
the end? If any other rule were to be adopted, nothing could ever be
settled. A law would be constitutional to-day and unconstitutional
to-morrow. Its constitutionality would altogether depend upon individual
opinion on a matter of mere expediency. Indeed, such a case as that is
now actually before us. Mr. Madison deemed the powers given to the bank,
in its present charter, proper and necessary. He held the bank,
therefore, to be constitutional. But the present President, not
acknowledging that the power of deciding on these points rests with
Congress, nor with Congress and the then President, but setting up his
own opinion as the standard, declares the law now in being
unconstitutional, because the powers granted by it are, in his
estimation, not necessary and proper. I pray to be informed, Sir,
whether, upon similar grounds of reasoning, the President's own scheme
for a bank, if Congress should do so unlikely a thing as to adopt it,
would not become unconstitutional also, if it should so happen that his
successor should hold his bank in as light esteem as he holds those
established under the auspices of Washington and Madison?

If the reasoning of the message be well founded, it is clear that the
charter of the existing bank is not a law. The bank has no legal
existence; it is not responsible to government; it has no authority to
act; it is incapable of being an agent; the President may treat it as a
nullity to-morrow, withdraw from it all the public deposits, and set
afloat all the existing national arrangements of revenue and finance.
It is enough to state these monstrous consequences, to show that the
doctrine, principles, and pretensions of the message are entirely
inconsistent with a government of laws. If that which Congress has
enacted, and the Supreme Court has sanctioned, be not the law of the
land, then the reign of law has ceased, and the reign of individual
opinion has already begun.

The President, in his commentary on the details of the existing bank
charter, undertakes to prove that one provision, and another provision,
is not necessary and proper; because, as he thinks, the same objects
proposed to be accomplished by them might have been better attained in
another mode; and therefore such provisions are not necessary, and so
not warranted by the Constitution. Does not this show, that, according
to his own mode of reasoning, his _own_ scheme would not be
constitutional, since another scheme, which probably most people would
think a better one, might be substituted for it? Perhaps, in any bank
charter, there may be no provisions which may be justly regarded as
absolutely indispensable; since it is probable that for any of them some
others might be substituted. No bank, therefore, ever could be
established; because there never has been, and never could be, any
charter, of which every provision should appear to be indispensable, or
necessary and proper, in the judgment of every individual. To admit,
therefore, that there may be a constitutional bank, and yet to contend
for such a mode of judging of its provisions and details as the message
adopts, involves an absurdity. Any charter which may be framed may be
taken up, and each power conferred by it successively denied, on the
ground, that, in regard to each, either no such power is "necessary or
proper" in a bank, or, which is the same thing in effect, some other
power might be substituted for it, and supply its place. That can never
be necessary, in the sense in which the message understands that term,
which may be dispensed with; and it cannot be said that any power may
not be dispensed with, if there be some other which might be substituted
for it, and which would accomplish the same end. Therefore, no bank
could ever be constitutional, because none could be established which
should not contain some provisions which might have been omitted, and
their place supplied by others.

Mr. President, I have understood the true and well-established doctrine
to be, that, after it has been decided that it is competent for Congress
to establish a bank, then it follows that it may create such a bank as
it judges, in its discretion, to be best, and invest it with all such
power as it may deem fit and suitable; with this limitation, always,
that all is to be done in the _bona fide_ execution of the power to
create a bank. If the granted powers are appropriate to the professed
end, so that the granting of them cannot be regarded as usurpation of
authority by Congress, or an evasion of constitutional restrictions,
under color of establishing a bank, then the charter is constitutional,
whether these powers be thought indispensable by others or not, or
whether even Congress itself deemed them absolutely indispensable, or
only thought them fit and suitable, or whether they are more or less
appropriate to their end. It is enough that they are appropriate; it is
enough that they are suited to produce the effects designed; and no
comparison is to be instituted, in order to try their constitutionality,
between them and others which may be suggested. A case analogous to the
present is found in the constitutional power of Congress over the mail.
The Constitution says no more than that "Congress shall have power to
establish post-offices and post-roads"; and, in the general clause, "all
powers necessary and proper" to give effect to this. In the execution of
this power, Congress has protected the mail, by providing that robbery
of it shall be punished with death. Is this infliction of capital
punishment constitutional? Certainly it is not, unless it be both
"proper and necessary." The President may not think it necessary or
proper; the law, then, according to the system of reasoning enforced by
the message, is of no binding force, and the President may disobey it,
and refuse to see it executed.

The truth is, Mr. President, that if the general object, the
subject-matter, properly belong to Congress, all its incidents belong to
Congress also. If Congress is to establish post-offices and post-roads,
it may, for that end, adopt one set of regulations or another; and
either would be constitutional. So the details of one bank are as
constitutional as those of another, if they are confined fairly and
honestly to the purpose of organizing the institution, and rendering it
useful. One _bank_ is as constitutional as another _bank_. If Congress
possesses the power to make a bank, it possesses the power to make it
efficient, and competent to produce the good expected from it. It may
clothe it with all such power and privileges, not otherwise inconsistent
with the Constitution, as may be necessary, in its own judgment, to make
it what government deems it should be. It may confer on it such
immunities as may induce individuals to become stockholders, and to
furnish the capital; and since the extent of these immunities and
privileges is matter of discretion, and matter of opinion, Congress only
can decide it, because Congress alone can frame or grant the charter. A
charter, thus granted to individuals, becomes a contract with them, upon
their compliance with its terms. The bank becomes an agent, bound to
perform certain duties, and entitled to certain stipulated rights and
privileges, in compensation for the proper discharge of these duties;
and all these stipulations, so long as they are appropriate to the
object professed, and not repugnant to any other constitutional
injunction, are entirely within the competency of Congress. And yet,
Sir, the message of the President toils through all the commonplace
topics of monopoly, the right of taxation, the suffering of the poor,
and the arrogance of the rich, with as much painful effort, as if one,
or another, or all of them, had something to do with the constitutional

What is called the "monopoly" is made the subject of repeated rehearsal,
in terms of special complaint. By this "monopoly," I suppose, is
understood the restriction contained in the charter, that Congress shall
not, during the twenty years, create another bank. Now, Sir, let me ask,
Who would think of creating a bank, inviting stockholders into it, with
large investments, imposing upon it heavy duties, as connected with the
government, receiving some millions of dollars as a _bonus_ or premium,
and yet retaining the power of granting, the next day, another charter,
which would destroy the whole value of the first? If this be an
unconstitutional restraint on Congress, the Constitution must be
strangely at variance with the dictates both of good sense and sound
morals. Did not the first Bank of the United States contain a similar
restriction? And have not the States granted bank charters with a
condition, that, if the charter should be accepted, they would not grant
others? States have certainly done so; and, in some instances, where no
_bonus_ or premium was paid at all; but from the mere desire to give
effect to the charter, by inducing individuals to accept it and organize
the institution. The President declares that this restriction is not
necessary to the efficiency of the bank; but that is the very thing
which Congress and his predecessor in office were called on to decide,
and which they did decide, when the one passed and the other approved
the act. And he has now no more authority to pronounce his judgment on
that act than any other individual in society. It is not his province to
decide on the constitutionality of statutes which Congress has passed,
and his predecessors approved.

There is another sentiment in this part of the message, which we should
hardly have expected to find in a paper which is supposed, whoever may
have drawn it up, to have passed under the review of professional
characters. The message declares, that this limitation to create no
other bank is unconstitutional, because, although Congress may use the
discretion vested in them, "they may not limit the discretion of their
successors." This reason is almost too superficial to require an answer.
Every one at all accustomed to the consideration of such subjects knows
that every Congress can bind its successors to the same extent that it
can bind itself. The power of Congress is always the same; the authority
of law always the same. It is true, we speak of the Twentieth Congress
and the Twenty-first Congress, but this is only to denote the period of
time, or to mark the successive organizations of the House of
Representatives under the successive periodical election of its members.
As a politic body, as the legislative power of the government, Congress
is always continuous, always identical. A particular Congress, as we
speak of it, for instance, the present Congress, can no farther restrain
itself from doing what it may choose to do at the next session, than it
can restrain any succeeding Congress from doing what it may choose. Any
Congress may repeal the act or law of its predecessor, if in its nature
it be repealable, just as it may repeal its own act; and if a law or an
act be irrepealable in its nature, it can no more be repealed by a
subsequent Congress than by that which passed it. All this is familiar
to everybody. And Congress, like every other legislature, often passes
acts which, being in the nature of grants or contracts, are irrepealable
ever afterwards. The message, in a strain of argument which it is
difficult to treat with ordinary respect, declares that this restriction
on the power of Congress, as to the establishment of other banks, is a
palpable attempt to amend the Constitution by an act of legislation. The
reason on which this observation purports to be founded is, that
Congress, by the Constitution, is to have exclusive legislation over the
District of Columbia; and when the bank charter declares that Congress
will create no new bank within the District, it annuls this power of
exclusive legislation! I must say, that this reasoning hardly rises high
enough to entitle it to a passing notice. It would be doing it too much
credit to call it plausible. No one needs to be informed that exclusive
power of legislation is not unlimited power of legislation; and if it
were, how can that legislative power be unlimited that cannot restrain
itself, that cannot bind itself by contract? Whether as a government or
as an individual, that being is fettered and restrained which is not
capable of binding itself by ordinary obligation. Every legislature
binds itself, whenever it makes a grant, enters into a contract, bestows
an office, or does any other act or thing which is in its nature
irrepealable. And this, instead of detracting from its legislative
power, is one of the modes of exercising that power. The legislative
power of Congress over the District of Columbia would not be full and
complete, if it might not make just such a stipulation as the bank
charter contains.

As to the taxing power of the States, about which the message says so
much, the proper answer to all it says is, that the States possess no
power to tax any instrument of the government of the United States. It
was no part of their power before the Constitution, and they derive no
such power from any of its provisions. It is nowhere given to them.
Could a State tax the _coin_ of the United States at the mint? Could a
State lay a stamp tax on the process of the courts of the United States,
and on custom-house papers? Could it tax the transportation of the mail,
or the ships of war, or the ordnance, or the muniments of war, of the
United States? The reason that these cannot be taxed by a State is, that
they are means and instruments of the government of the United States.
The establishment of a bank exempt from State taxation takes away no
existing right in a State. It leaves it all it ever possessed. But the
complaint is, that the bank charter does not _confer_ the power of
taxation. This, certainly, though not a new, (for the same argument was
urged here,) appears to me to be a strange, mode of asserting and
maintaining State rights. The power of taxation is a sovereign power;
and the President and those who think with him are of opinion, in a
given case, that this sovereign power should be conferred on the States
by an act of Congress. There is, if I mistake not, Sir, as little
compliment to State sovereignty in this idea, as there is of sound
constitutional doctrine. Sovereign rights held under the grant of an act
of Congress present a proposition quite new in constitutional law.

The President himself even admits that an instrument of the government
of the United States ought not, as such, to be taxed by the States; yet
he contends for such a power of taxing property connected with this
instrument, and essential to its very being, as places its whole
existence in the pleasure of the States. It is not enough that the
States may tax all the property of all their own citizens, wherever
invested or however employed. The complaint is, that the power of State
taxation does not reach so far as to take cognizance over persons out of
the State, and to tax them for a franchise lawfully exercised under the
authority of the United States. Sir, when did the power of the States,
or indeed of any government, go to such an extent as that? Clearly
never. The taxing power of all communities is necessarily and justly
limited to the property of its own citizens, and to the property of
others, having a distinct local existence as property, within its
jurisdiction; it does not extend to rights and franchises, rightly
exercised, under the authority of other governments, nor to persons
beyond its jurisdiction. As the Constitution has left the taxing power
of the States, so the bank charter leaves it. Congress has not
undertaken either to take away, or to confer, a taxing power; nor to
enlarge, or to restrain it; if it were to do either, I hardly know which
of the two would be the least excusable.

I beg leave to repeat, Mr. President, that what I have now been
considering are the President's objections, not to the policy or
expediency, but to the constitutionality, of the bank; and not to the
constitutionality of any new or proposed bank, but of the bank as it now
is, and as it has long existed. If the President had declined to approve
this bill because he thought the original charter unwisely granted, and
the bank, in point of policy and expediency, objectionable or
mischievous, and in that view only had suggested the reasons now urged
by him, his argument, however inconclusive, would have been
intelligible, and not, in its whole frame and scope, inconsistent with
all well-established first principles. His rejection of the bill, in
that case, would have been, no doubt, an extraordinary exercise of
power; but it would have been, nevertheless, the exercise of a power
belonging to his office, and trusted by the Constitution to his
discretion. But when he puts forth an array of arguments such as the
message employs, not against the expediency of the bank, but against its
constitutional existence, he confounds all distinctions, mixes questions
of policy and questions of right together, and turns all constitutional
restraints into mere matters of opinion. As far as its power extends,
either in its direct effects or as a precedent, the message not only
unsettles every thing which has been settled under the Constitution, but
would show, also, that the Constitution itself is utterly incapable of
any fixed construction or definite interpretation, and that there is no
possibility of establishing, by its authority, any practical limitations
on the powers of the respective branches of the government.

When the message denies, as it does, the authority of the Supreme Court
to decide on constitutional questions, it effects, so far as the opinion
of the President and his authority can effect it, a complete change in
our government. It does two things: first, it converts constitutional
limitations of power into mere matters of opinion, and then it strikes
the judicial department, as an efficient department, out of our system.
But the message by no means stops even at this point. Having denied to
Congress the authority of judging what powers may be constitutionally
conferred on a bank, and having erected the judgment of the President
himself into a standard by which to try the constitutional character of
such powers, and having denounced the authority of the Supreme Court to
decide finally on constitutional questions, the message proceeds to
claim for the President, not the power of approval, but the primary
power, the power of originating laws. The President informs Congress,
that _he_ would have sent them such a charter, if it had been properly
asked for, as they ought to confer. He very plainly intimates, that, in
his opinion, the establishment of all laws, of this nature at least,
belongs to the functions of the executive government; and that Congress
ought to have waited for the manifestation of the executive will, before
it presumed to touch the subject. Such, Mr. President, stripped of their
disguises, are the real pretences set up in behalf of the executive
power in this most extraordinary paper.

Mr. President, we have arrived at a new epoch. We are entering on
experiments, with the government and the Constitution of the country,
hitherto untried, and of fearful and appalling aspect. This message
calls us to the contemplation of a future which little resembles the
past. Its principles are at war with all that public opinion has
sustained, and all which the experience of the government has
sanctioned. It denies first principles; it contradicts truths,
heretofore received as indisputable. It denies to the judiciary the
interpretation of law, and claims to divide with Congress the power of
originating statutes. It extends the grasp of executive pretension over
every power of the government. But this is not all. It presents the
chief magistrate of the Union in the attitude of arguing away the powers
of that government over which he has been chosen to preside; and
adopting for this purpose modes of reasoning which, even under the
influence of all proper feeling towards high official station, it is
difficult to regard as respectable. It appeals to every prejudice which
may betray men into a mistaken view of their own interests, and to every
passion which may lead them to disobey the impulses of their
understanding. It urges all the specious topics of State rights and
national encroachment against that which a great majority of the States
have affirmed to be rightful, and in which all of them have acquiesced.
It sows, in an unsparing manner, the seeds of jealousy and ill-will
against that government of which its author is the official head. It
raises a cry, that liberty is in danger, at the very moment when it puts
forth claims to powers heretofore unknown and unheard of. It affects
alarm for the public freedom, when nothing endangers that freedom so
much as its own unparalleled pretences. This, even, is not all. It
manifestly seeks to inflame the poor against the rich; it wantonly
attacks whole classes of the people, for the purpose of turning against
them the prejudices and the resentments of other classes. It is a state
paper which finds no topic too exciting for its use, no passion too
inflammable for its address and its solicitation.

Such is this message. It remains now for the people of the United States
to choose between the principles here avowed and their government. These
cannot subsist together. The one or the other must be rejected. If the
sentiments of the message shall receive general approbation, the
Constitution will have perished even earlier than the moment which its
enemies originally allowed for the termination of its existence. It will
not have survived to its fiftieth year.



[On the 22d of February, 1832, being the centennial birthday of GEORGE
WASHINGTON, a number of gentlemen, members of Congress and others, from
different parts of the Union, united in commemorating the occasion by a
public dinner in the city of Washington.

At the request of the Committee of Arrangements, Mr. Webster, then a
Senator from Massachusetts, occupied the chair. After the cloth was
removed, he addressed the company in the following manner.]

I rise, Gentlemen, to propose to you the name of that great man, in
commemoration of whose birth, and in honor of whose character and
services, we are here assembled.

I am sure that I express a sentiment common to every one present, when I
say that there is something more than ordinarily solemn and affecting in
this occasion.

We are met to testify our regard for him whose name is intimately
blended with whatever belongs most essentially to the prosperity, the
liberty, the free institutions, and the renown of our country. That name
was of power to rally a nation, in the hour of thick-thronging public
disasters and calamities; that name shone, amid the storm of war, a
beacon light, to cheer and guide the country's friends; it flamed, too,
like a meteor, to repel her foes. That name, in the days of peace, was a
loadstone, attracting to itself a whole people's confidence, a whole
people's love, and the whole world's respect. That name, descending with
all time, spreading over the whole earth, and uttered in all the
languages belonging to the tribes and races of men, will for ever be
pronounced with affectionate gratitude by every one in whose breast
there shall arise an aspiration for human rights and human liberty.

We perform this grateful duty, Gentlemen, at the expiration of a hundred
years from his birth, near the place, so cherished and beloved by him,
where his dust now reposes, and in the capital which bears his own
immortal name.

All experience evinces that human sentiments are strongly influenced by
associations. The recurrence of anniversaries, or of longer periods of
time, naturally freshens the recollection, and deepens the impression,
of events with which they are historically connected. Renowned places,
also, have a power to awaken feeling, which all acknowledge. No American
can pass by the fields of Bunker Hill, Monmouth, and Camden, as if they
were ordinary spots on the earth's surface. Whoever visits them feels
the sentiment of love of country kindling anew, as if the spirit that
belonged to the transactions which have rendered these places
distinguished still hovered round, with power to move and excite all who
in future time may approach them.

But neither of these sources of emotion equals the power with which
great moral examples affect the mind. When sublime virtues cease to be
abstractions, when they become embodied in human character, and
exemplified in human conduct, we should be false to our own nature, if
we did not indulge in the spontaneous effusions of our gratitude and our
admiration. A true lover of the virtue of patriotism delights to
contemplate its purest models; and that love of country may be well
suspected which affects to soar so high into the regions of sentiment as
to be lost and absorbed in the abstract feeling, and becomes too
elevated or too refined to glow with fervor in the commendation or the
love of individual benefactors. All this is unnatural. It is as if one
should be so enthusiastic a lover of poetry, as to care nothing for
Homer or Milton; so passionately attached to eloquence as to be
indifferent to Tully and Chatham; or such a devotee to the arts, in such
an ecstasy with the elements of beauty, proportion, and expression, as
to regard the masterpieces of Raphael and Michael Angelo with coldness
or contempt. We may be assured, Gentlemen, that he who really loves the
thing itself, loves its finest exhibitions. A true friend of his country
loves her friends and benefactors, and thinks it no degradation to
commend and commemorate them. The voluntary outpouring of the public
feeling, made to-day, from the North to the South, and from the East to
the West, proves this sentiment to be both just and natural. In the
cities and in the villages, in the public temples and in the family
circles, among all ages and sexes, gladdened voices to-day bespeak
grateful hearts and a freshened recollection of the virtues of the
Father of his Country. And it will be so, in all time to come, so long
as public virtue is itself an object of regard. The ingenuous youth of
America will hold up to themselves the bright model of Washington's
example, and study to be what they behold; they will contemplate his
character till all its virtues spread out and display themselves to
their delighted vision; as the earliest astronomers, the shepherds on
the plains of Babylon, gazed at the stars till they saw them form into
clusters and constellations, overpowering at length the eyes of the
beholders with the united blaze of a thousand lights.

Gentlemen, we are at a point of a century from the birth of Washington;
and what a century it has been! During its course, the human mind has
seemed to proceed with a sort of geometric velocity, accomplishing for
human intelligence and human freedom more than had been done in fives or
tens of centuries preceding. Washington stands at the commencement of a
new era, as well as at the head of the New World. A century from the
birth of Washington has changed the world. The country of Washington has
been the theatre on which a great part of that change has been wrought,
and Washington himself a principal agent by which it has been
accomplished. His age and his country are equally full of wonders; and
of both he is the chief.

If the poetical prediction, uttered a few years before his birth, be
true; if indeed it be designed by Providence that the grandest
exhibition of human character and human affairs shall be made on this
theatre of the Western world; if it be true that,

"The four first acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day,
Time's noblest offspring is the last";--

how could this imposing, swelling, final scene be appropriately opened,
how could its intense interest be adequately sustained, but by the
introduction of just such a character as our Washington?

Washington had attained his manhood when that spark of liberty was
struck out in his own country, which has since kindled into a flame, and
shot its beams over the earth. In the flow of a century from his birth,
the world has changed in science, in arts, in the extent of commerce, in
the improvement of navigation, and in all that relates to the
civilization of man. But it is the spirit of human freedom, the new
elevation of individual man, in his moral, social, and political
character, leading the whole long train of other improvements, which has
most remarkably distinguished the era. Society, in this century, has
not made its progress, like Chinese skill, by a greater acuteness of
ingenuity in trifles; it has not merely lashed itself to an increased
speed round the old circles of thought and action; but it has assumed a
new character; it has raised itself from _beneath_ governments to a
participation _in_ governments; it has mixed moral and political objects
with the daily pursuits of individual men; and, with a freedom and
strength before altogether unknown, it has applied to these objects the
whole power of the human understanding. It has been the era, in short,
when the social principle has triumphed over the feudal principle; when
society has maintained its rights against military power, and
established, on foundations never hereafter to be shaken, its competency
to govern itself.

It was the extraordinary fortune of Washington, that, having been
intrusted, in revolutionary times, with the supreme military command,
and having fulfilled that trust with equal renown for wisdom and for
valor, he should be placed at the head of the first government in which
an attempt was to be made on a large scale to rear the fabric of social
order on the basis of a written constitution and of a pure
representative principle. A government was to be established, without a
throne, without an aristocracy, without castes, orders, or privileges;
and this government, instead of being a democracy, existing and acting
within the walls of a single city, was to be extended over a vast
country, of different climates, interests, and habits, and of various
communions of our common Christian faith. The experiment certainly was
entirely new. A popular government of this extent, it was evident, could
be framed only by carrying into full effect the principle of
representation or of delegated power; and the world was to see whether
society could, by the strength of this principle, maintain its own peace
and good government, carry forward its own great interests, and conduct
itself to political renown and glory.

By the benignity of Providence, this experiment, so full of interest to
us and to our posterity for ever, so full of interest, indeed, to the
world in its present generation and in all its generations to come, was
suffered to commence under the guidance of Washington. Destined for this
high career, he was fitted for it by wisdom, by virtue, by patriotism,
by discretion, by whatever can inspire confidence in man toward man. In
entering on the untried scenes, early disappointment and the premature
extinction of all hope of success would have been certain, had it not
been that there did exist throughout the country, in a most
extraordinary degree, an unwavering trust in him who stood at the helm.

I remarked, Gentlemen, that the whole world was and is interested in the
result of this experiment. And is it not so? Do we deceive ourselves, or
is it true that at this moment the career which this government is
running is among the most attractive objects to the civilized world? Do
we deceive ourselves, or is it true that at this moment that love of
liberty and that understanding of its true principles which are flying
over the whole earth, as on the wings of all the winds, are really and
truly of American origin?

At the period of the birth of Washington, there existed in Europe no
political liberty in large communities, except in the provinces of
Holland, and except that England herself had set a great example, so far
as it went, by her glorious Revolution of 1688. Everywhere else,
despotic power was predominant, and the feudal or military principle
held the mass of mankind in hopeless bondage. One half of Europe was
crushed beneath the Bourbon sceptre, and no conception of political
liberty, no hope even of religious toleration, existed among that nation
which was America's first ally. The king was the state, the king was the
country, the king was all. There was one king, with power not derived
from his people, and too high to be questioned; and the rest were all
subjects, with no political right but obedience. All above was
intangible power, all below quiet subjection. A recent occurrence in the
French Chambers shows us how public opinion on these subjects is
changed. A minister had spoken of the "king's subjects." "There are no
subjects," exclaimed hundreds of voices at once, "in a country where the
people make the king!"

Gentlemen, the spirit of human liberty and of free government, nurtured
and grown into strength and beauty in America, has stretched its course
into the midst of the nations. Like an emanation from Heaven, it has
gone forth, and it will not return void. It must change, it is fast
changing, the face of the earth. Our great, our high duty is to show, in
our own example, that this spirit is a spirit of health as well as a
spirit of power; that its benignity is as great as its strength; that
its efficiency to secure individual rights, social relations, and moral
order, is equal to the irresistible force with which it prostrates
principalities and powers. The world, at this moment, is regarding us
with a willing, but something of a fearful admiration. Its deep and
awful anxiety is to learn whether free states may be stable, as well as
free; whether popular power may be trusted, as well as feared; in short,
whether wise, regular, and virtuous self-government is a vision for the
contemplation of theorists, or a truth established, illustrated, and
brought into practice in the country of Washington.

Gentlemen, for the earth which we inhabit, and the whole circle of the
sun, for all the unborn races of mankind, we seem to hold in our hands,
for their weal or woe, the fate of this experiment. If we fail, who
shall venture the repetition? If our example shall prove to be one, not
of encouragement, but of terror, not fit to be imitated, but fit only to
be shunned, where else shall the world look for free models? If this
great _Western Sun_ be struck out of the firmament, at what other
fountain shall the lamp of liberty hereafter be lighted? What other orb
shall emit a ray to glimmer, even, on the darkness of the world?

There is no danger of our overrating or overstating the important part
which we are now acting in human affairs. It should not flatter our
personal self-respect, but it should reanimate our patriotic virtues,
and inspire us with a deeper and more solemn sense, both of our
privileges and of our duties. We cannot wish better for our country, nor
for the world, than that the same spirit which influenced Washington may
influence all who succeed him; and that the same blessing from above,
which attended his efforts, may also attend theirs.

The principles of Washington's administration are not left doubtful.
They are to be found in the Constitution itself, in the great measures
recommended and approved by him, in his speeches to Congress, and in
that most interesting paper, his Farewell Address to the People of the
United States. The success of the government under his administration is
the highest proof of the soundness of these principles. And, after an
experience of thirty-five years, what is there which an enemy could
condemn? What is there which either his friends, or the friends of the
country, could wish to have been otherwise? I speak, of course, of great
measures and leading principles.

In the first place, all his measures were right in their intent. He
stated the whole basis of his own great character, when he told the
country, in the homely phrase of the proverb, that honesty is the best
policy. One of the most striking things ever said of him is, that "_he
changed mankind's ideas of political greatness_."[1] To commanding
talents, and to success, the common elements of such greatness, he added
a disregard of self, a spotlessness of motive, a steady submission to
every public and private duty, which threw far into the shade the whole
crowd of vulgar great. The object of his regard was the whole country.
No part of it was enough to fill his enlarged patriotism. His love of
glory, so far as that may be supposed to have influenced him at all,
spurned every thing short of general approbation. It would have been
nothing to him, that his partisans or his favorites outnumbered, or
outvoted, or outmanaged, or outclamored, those of other leaders. He had
no favorites; he rejected all partisanship; and, acting honestly for the
universal good, he deserved, what he has so richly enjoyed, the
universal love.

His principle it was to act right, and to trust the people for support;
his principle it was not to follow the lead of sinister and selfish
ends, nor to rely on the little arts of party delusion to obtain public
sanction for such a course. Born for his country and for the world, he
did not give up to party what was meant for mankind. The consequence is,
that his fame is as durable as his principles, as lasting as truth and
virtue themselves. While the hundreds whom party excitement, and
temporary circumstances, and casual combinations, have raised into
transient notoriety, sink again, like thin bubbles, bursting and
dissolving into the great ocean, Washington's fame is like the rock
which bounds that ocean, and at whose feet its billows are destined to
break harmlessly for ever.

The maxims upon which Washington conducted our foreign relations were
few and simple. The first was an entire and indisputable impartiality
towards foreign states. He adhered to this rule of public conduct,
against very strong inducements to depart from it, and when the
popularity of the moment seemed to favor such a departure. In the next
place, he maintained true dignity and unsullied honor in all
communications with foreign states. It was among the high duties
devolved upon him, to introduce our new government into the circle of
civilized states and powerful nations. Not arrogant or assuming, with no
unbecoming or supercilious bearing, he yet exacted for it from all
others entire and punctilious respect. He demanded, and he obtained at
once, a standing of perfect equality for his country in the society of
nations; nor was there a prince or potentate of his day, whose personal
character carried with it, into the intercourse of other states, a
greater degree of respect and veneration.

He regarded other nations only as they stood in political relations to
us. With their internal affairs, their political parties and
dissensions, he scrupulously abstained from all interference; and, on
the other hand, he repelled with spirit all such interference by others
with us or our concerns. His sternest rebuke, the most indignant measure
of his whole administration, was aimed against such an attempted
interference. He felt it as an attempt to wound the national honor, and
resented it accordingly.

The reiterated admonitions in his Farewell Address show his deep fears
that foreign influence would insinuate itself into our counsels through
the channels of domestic dissension, and obtain a sympathy with our own
temporary parties. Against all such dangers, he most earnestly entreats
the country to guard itself. He appeals to its patriotism, to its
self-respect, to its own honor, to every consideration connected with
its welfare and happiness, to resist, at the very beginning, all
tendencies towards such connection of foreign interests with our own
affairs. With a tone of earnestness nowhere else found, even in his last
affectionate farewell advice to his countrymen, he says, "Against the
insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me,
fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be _constantly_
awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one
of the most baneful foes of republican government."

Lastly, on the subject of foreign relations, Washington never forgot
that we had interests peculiar to ourselves. The primary political
concerns of Europe, he saw, did not affect us. We had nothing to do with
her balance of power, her family compacts, or her successions to
thrones. We were placed in a condition favorable to neutrality during
European wars, and to the enjoyment of all the great advantages of that
relation. "Why, then," he asks us, "why forego the advantages of so
peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?
Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe,
entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition,
rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?"

Indeed, Gentlemen, Washington's Farewell Address is full of truths
important at all times, and particularly deserving consideration at the
present. With a sagacity which brought the future before him, and made
it like the present, he saw and pointed out the dangers that even at
this moment most imminently threaten us. I hardly know how a greater
service of that kind could now be done to the community, than by a
renewed and wide diffusion of that admirable paper, and an earnest
invitation to every man in the country to reperuse and consider it. Its
political maxims are invaluable; its exhortations to love of country and
to brotherly affection among citizens, touching; and the solemnity with
which it urges the observance of moral duties, and impresses the power
of religious obligation, gives to it the highest character of truly
disinterested, sincere, parental advice.

The domestic policy of Washington found its pole-star in the avowed
objects of the Constitution itself. He sought so to administer that
Constitution, as to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure
domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the
general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. These were objects
interesting, in the highest degree, to the whole country, and his policy
embraced the whole country.

Among his earliest and most important duties was the organization of the
government itself, the choice of his confidential advisers, and the
various appointments to office. This duty, so important and delicate,
when a whole government was to be organized, and all its offices for the
first time filled, was yet not difficult to him; for he had no sinister
ends to accomplish, no clamorous partisans to gratify, no pledges to
redeem, no object to be regarded but simply the public good. It was a
plain, straightforward matter, a mere honest choice of men for the
public service.

His own singleness of purpose, his disinterested patriotism, were
evinced by the selection of his first Cabinet, and by the manner in
which he filled the seats of justice, and other places of high trust. He
sought for men fit for offices; not for offices which might suit men.
Above personal considerations, above local considerations, above party
considerations, he felt that he could only discharge the sacred trust
which the country had placed in his hands, by a diligent inquiry after
real merit, and a conscientious preference of virtue and talent. The
whole country was the field of his selection. He explored that whole
field, looking only for whatever it contained most worthy and
distinguished. He was, indeed, most successful, and he deserved success
for the purity of his motives, the liberality of his sentiments, and his
enlarged and manly policy.

Washington's administration established the national credit, made
provision for the public debt, and for that patriotic army whose
interests and welfare were always so dear to him; and, by laws wisely
framed, and of admirable effect, raised the commerce and navigation of
the country, almost at once, from depression and ruin to a state of
prosperity. Nor were his eyes open to these interests alone. He viewed
with equal concern its agriculture and manufactures, and, so far as they
came within the regular exercise of the powers of this government, they
experienced regard and favor.

It should not be omitted, even in this slight reference to the general
measures and general principles of the first President, that he saw and
felt the full value and importance of the judicial department of the
government. An upright and able administration of the laws he held to be
alike indispensable to private happiness and public liberty. The temple
of justice, in his opinion, was a sacred place, and he would profane and
pollute it who should call any to minister in it, not spotless in
character, not incorruptible in integrity, not competent by talent and
learning, not a fit object of unhesitating trust.

Among other admonitions, Washington has left us, in his last
communication to his country, an exhortation against the excesses of
party spirit. A fire not to be quenched, he yet conjures us not to fan
and feed the flame. Undoubtedly, Gentlemen, it is the greatest danger of
our system and of our time. Undoubtedly, if that system should be
overthrown, it will be the work of excessive party spirit, acting on the
government, which is dangerous enough, or acting _in_ the government,
which is a thousand times more dangerous; for government then becomes
nothing but organized party, and, in the strange vicissitudes of human
affairs, it may come at last, perhaps, to exhibit the singular paradox
of government itself being in opposition to its own powers, at war with
the very elements of its own existence. Such cases are hopeless. As men
may be protected against murder, but cannot be guarded against suicide,
so government may be shielded from the assaults of external foes, but
nothing can save it when it chooses to lay violent hands on itself.

Finally, Gentlemen, there was in the breast of Washington one sentiment
so deeply felt, so constantly uppermost, that no proper occasion escaped
without its utterance. From the letter which he signed in behalf of the
Convention when the Constitution was sent out to the people, to the
moment when he put his hand to that last paper in which he addressed his
countrymen, the Union,--the Union was the great object of his thoughts.
In that first letter he tells them that, to him and his brethren of the
Convention, union appears to be the greatest interest of every true
American; and in that last paper he conjures them to regard that unity
of government which constitutes them one people as the very palladium of
their prosperity and safety, and the security of liberty itself. He
regarded the union of these States less as one of our blessings, than as
the great treasure-house which contained them all. Here, in his
judgment, was the great magazine of all our means of prosperity; here,
as he thought, and as every true American still thinks, are deposited
all our animating prospects, all our solid hopes for future greatness.
He has taught us to maintain this union, not by seeking to enlarge the
powers of the government, on the one hand, nor by surrendering them, on
the other; but by an administration of them at once firm and moderate,
pursuing objects truly national, and carried on in a spirit of justice
and equity.

The extreme solicitude for the preservation of the Union, at all times
manifested by him, shows not only the opinion he entertained of its
importance, but his clear perception of those causes which were likely
to spring up to endanger it, and which, if once they should overthrow
the present system, would leave little hope of any future beneficial
reunion. Of all the presumptions indulged by presumptuous man, that is
one of the rashest which looks for repeated and favorable opportunities
for the deliberate establishment of a united government over distinct
and widely extended communities. Such a thing has happened once in human
affairs, and but once; the event stands out as a prominent exception to
all ordinary history; and unless we suppose ourselves running into an
age of miracles, we may not expect its repetition.

Washington, therefore, could regard, and did regard, nothing as of
paramount political interest, but the integrity of the Union itself.
With a united government, well administered, he saw that we had nothing
to fear; and without it, nothing to hope. The sentiment is just, and its
momentous truth should solemnly impress the whole country. If we might
regard our country as personated in the spirit of Washington, if we
might consider him as representing her, in her past renown, her present
prosperity, and her future career, and as in that character demanding of
us all to account for our conduct, as political men or as private
citizens, how should he answer him who has ventured to talk of disunion
and dismemberment? Or how should he answer him who dwells perpetually on
local interests, and fans every kindling flame of local prejudice? How
should he answer him who would array State against State, interest
against interest, and party against party, careless of the continuance
of that _unity of government which constitutes us one people_?

The political prosperity which this country has attained, and which it
now enjoys, has been acquired mainly through the instrumentality of the
present government. While this agent continues, the capacity of
attaining to still higher degrees of prosperity exists also. We have,
while this lasts, a political life capable of beneficial exertion, with
power to resist or overcome misfortunes, to sustain us against the
ordinary accidents of human affairs, and to promote, by active efforts,
every public interest. But dismemberment strikes at the very being which
preserves these faculties. It would lay its rude and ruthless hand on
this great agent itself. It would sweep away, not only what we possess,
but all power of regaining lost, or acquiring new possessions. It would
leave the country, not only bereft of its prosperity and happiness, but
without limbs, or organs, or faculties, by which to exert itself
hereafter in the pursuit of that prosperity and happiness.

Other misfortunes may be borne, or their effects overcome. If disastrous
war should sweep our commerce from the ocean, another generation may
renew it; if it exhaust our treasury, future industry may replenish it;
if it desolate and lay waste our fields, still, under a new cultivation,
they will grow green again, and ripen to future harvests. It were but a
trifle even if the walls of yonder Capitol were to crumble, if its lofty
pillars should fall, and its gorgeous decorations be all covered by the
dust of the valley. All these might be rebuilt. But who shall
reconstruct the fabric of demolished government? Who shall rear again
the well-proportioned columns of constitutional liberty? Who shall frame
together the skilful architecture which unites national sovereignty with
State rights, individual security, and public prosperity? No, if these
columns fall, they will be raised not again. Like the Coliseum and the
Parthenon, they will be destined to a mournful, a melancholy
immortality. Bitterer tears, however, will flow over them, than were
ever shed over the monuments of Roman or Grecian art; for they will be
the remnants of a more glorious edifice than Greece or Rome ever saw,
the edifice of constitutional American liberty.

But let us hope for better things. Let us trust in that gracious Being
who has hitherto held our country as in the hollow of his hand. Let us
trust to the virtue and the intelligence of the people, and to the
efficacy of religious obligation. Let us trust to the influence of
Washington's example. Let us hope that that fear of Heaven which expels
all other fear, and that regard to duty which transcends all other
regard, may influence public men and private citizens, and lead our
country still onward in her happy career. Full of these gratifying
anticipations and hopes, let us look forward to the end of that century
which is now commenced. A hundred years hence, other disciples of
Washington will celebrate his birth, with no less of sincere admiration
than we now commemorate it. When they shall meet, as we now meet, to do
themselves and him that honor, so surely as they shall see the blue
summits of his native mountains rise in the horizon, so surely as they
shall behold the river on whose banks he lived, and on whose banks he
rests, still flowing on toward the sea, so surely may they see, as we
now see, the flag of the Union floating on the top of the Capitol; and
then, as now, may the sun in his course visit no land more free, more
happy, more lovely, than this our own country!


[Footnote 1: See Works of Fisher Ames, pp. 122, 123.]



I begin, Sir, with the subject of removals from office for opinion's
sake, one of the most signal instances, as I think, of the attempt to
extend executive power. This has been a leading measure, a cardinal
point, in the course of the administration. It has proceeded, from the
first, on a settled proscription for political opinions; and this system
it has carried into operation to the full extent of its ability. The
President has not only filled all vacancies with his own friends,
generally those most distinguished as personal partisans, but he has
turned out political opponents, and thus created vacancies, in order
that he might fill them with his own friends. I think the number of
removals and appointments is said to be _two thousand_. While the
administration and its friends have been attempting to circumscribe and
to decry the powers belonging to other branches, it has thus seized into
its own hands a patronage most pernicious and corrupting, an authority
over men's means of living most tyrannical and odious, and a power to
punish free men for political opinions altogether intolerable.

You will remember, Sir, that the Constitution says not one word about
the President's power of removal from office. It is a power raised
entirely by construction. It is a constructive power, introduced at
first to meet cases of extreme public necessity. It has now become
coextensive with the executive will, calling for no necessity, requiring
no exigency for its exercise; to be employed at all times, without
control, without question, without responsibility. When the question of
the President's power of removal was debated in the first Congress,
those who argued for it limited it to _extreme cases_. Cases, they said,
might arise, in which it would be _absolutely necessary_ to remove an
officer before the Senate could be assembled. An officer might become
insane; he might abscond; and from these and other supposable cases, it
was said, the public service might materially suffer if the President
could not remove the incumbent. And it was further said, that there was
little or no danger of the abuse of the power for party or personal
objects. No President, it was thought, would ever commit such an outrage
on public opinion. Mr. Madison, who thought the power ought to exist,
and to be exercised in cases of high necessity, declared, nevertheless,
that if a President should resort to the power when not required by any
public exigency, and merely for personal objects, _he would deserve to
be impeached_. By a very small majority,--I think, in the Senate, by the
casting vote of the Vice-President,--Congress decided in favor of the
existence of the power of removal, upon the grounds which I have
mentioned; granting the power in a case of clear and absolute necessity,
and denying its existence everywhere else.

Mr. President, we should recollect that this question was discussed,
and thus decided, when Washington was in the executive chair. Men knew
that in his hands the power would not be abused; nor did they conceive
it possible that any of his successors could so far depart from his
great and bright example, as, by abuse of the power, and by carrying
that abuse to its utmost extent, to change the essential character of
the executive from that of an impartial guardian and executor of the
laws into that of the chief dispenser of party rewards. Three or four
instances of removal occurred in the first twelve years of the
government. At the commencement of Mr. Jefferson's administration, he
made several others, not without producing much dissatisfaction; so much
so, that he thought it expedient to give reasons to the people, in a
public paper, for even the limited extent to which he had exercised the
power. He rested his justification on particular circumstances and
peculiar grounds; which, whether substantial or not, showed, at least,
that he did not regard the power of removal as an ordinary power, still
less as a mere arbitrary one, to be used as he pleased, for whatever
ends he pleased, and without responsibility. As far as I remember, Sir,
after the early part of Mr. Jefferson's administration, hardly an
instance occurred for near thirty years. If there were any instances,
they were few. But at the commencement of the present administration,
the precedent of these previous cases was seized on, and a _system_, a
regular _plan of government_, a well-considered scheme for the
maintenance of party power by the patronage of office, and this
patronage to be created by general removal, was adopted, and has been
carried into full operation. Indeed, before General Jackson's
inauguration, the party put the system into practice. In the last
session of Mr. Adams's administration, the friends of General Jackson
constituted a majority in the Senate; and nominations, made by Mr. Adams
to fill vacancies which had occurred in the ordinary way, were
postponed, by this majority, beyond the 3d of March, _for the purpose,
openly avowed, of giving the nominations to General Jackson_. A
nomination for a judge of the Supreme Court, and many others of less
magnitude, were thus disposed of.

And what did we witness, Sir, when the administration actually
commenced, in the full exercise of its authority? One universal sweep,
one undistinguishing blow, levelled against all who were not of the
successful party. No worth, public or private, no service, civil or
military, was of power to resist the relentless greediness of
proscription. Soldiers of the late war, soldiers of the Revolutionary
war, the very contemporaries of the independence of the country, all
lost their situations. No office was too high, and none too low; for
_office_ was the spoil, and "_all the spoils_," it is said, "belong to
the _victors_"! If a man holding an office necessary for his daily
support had presented himself covered with the scars of wounds received
in every battle, from Bunker Hill to Yorktown, these would not have
protected him against this reckless rapacity. Nay, Sir, if Warren
himself had been among the living, and had possessed any office under
government, high or low, he would not have been suffered to hold it a
single hour, unless he could show that he had strictly complied with the
party statutes, and had put a well-marked party collar round his own
neck. Look, Sir, to the case of the late venerable Major Melville. He
was a personification of the spirit of 1776, one of the earliest to
venture in the cause of liberty. He was of the Tea Party; one of the
very first to expose himself to British power. And his whole life was
consonant with this, its beginning. Always ardent in the cause of
liberty, always a zealous friend to his country, always acting with the
party which he supposed cherished the genuine republican spirit most
fervently, always estimable and respectable in private life, he seemed
armed against this miserable petty tyranny of party as far as man could
be. But he felt its blow, and he fell. He held an office in the
custom-house, and had held it for a long course of years; and he was
deprived of it, as if unworthy to serve the country which he loved, and
for whose liberties, in the vigor of his early manhood, he had thrust
himself into the very jaws of its enemies. There was no mistake in the
matter. His character, his standing, his Revolutionary services, were
all well known; but they were known to no purpose; they weighed not one
feather against party pretensions. It cost no pains to remove him; it
cost no compunction to wring his aged heart with this retribution from
his country for his services, his zeal, and his fidelity. Sir, you will
bear witness,[1] that, when his successor was nominated to the Senate,
and the Senate were informed who had been removed to make way for that
nomination, its members were struck with horror. They had not conceived
the administration to be capable of such a thing; and yet they said,
What can _we_ do? The man is removed; _we_ cannot recall him; we can
only act upon the nomination before us. Sir, you and I thought
otherwise; and I rejoice that we did think otherwise. We thought it our
duty to resist the nomination to fill a vacancy thus created. We thought
it our duty to oppose this proscription, when, and where, and as, we
constitutionally could. We besought the Senate to go with us, and to
take a stand before the country on this great question. We invoked them
to try the deliberate sense of the people; to trust themselves before
the tribunal of public opinion; to resist at first, to resist at last,
to resist always, the introduction of this unsocial, this mischievous,
this dangerous, this belligerent principle into the practice of the

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 _inquisition 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 measurers? When
did he ever go into the villages, to disturb the little post-offices,
the mail contracts, and every thing else in the remotest degree
connected with government? Sir, a British minister who should do this,
and should afterwards show his head in a British House of Commons, would
be received by a universal hiss.

I have 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 preceding forty years of the government. And these nominations, 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
obtained; 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 party selfishness
which drives good men out of office will push bad men in. Political
proscription leads necessarily to the filling of offices with
incompetent persons, and to a consequent malexecution 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 entirely 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 exercise 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.

It seems, Mr. President, to be a peculiar and singular characteristic of
the present administration, that it came into power on a cry against
abuses, _which did not exist_, and then, as soon as it was in, as if in
mockery of the perception and intelligence of the people, _it created
those very abuses_, and carried them to a great length. Thus the chief
magistrate himself, before he came into the chair, in a formal public
paper, denounced the practice of appointing members of Congress to
office. He said, that, if that practice continued, _corruption would
become the order of the day_; and, as if to fasten and nail down his own
consistency to that point, he declared that it was _due to himself to
practise what he recommended to others_. Yet, Sir, as soon as he was in
power, these fastenings gave way, the nails all flew, and the promised
_consistency_ remains a striking proof of the manner in which political
assurances are sometimes fulfilled. He has already appointed more
members of Congress to office than any of his predecessors, in the
longest period of administration. Before his time, there was no reason
to complain of these appointments. They had not been numerous under any
administration. Under this, they have been numerous, and some of them
such as may well justify complaint.

Another striking instance of the exhibition of the same characteristics
may be found in the sentiments of the Inaugural Address, and in the
subsequent practice, on the subject of _interfering with the freedom of
elections_. The Inaugural Address declares, that it is necessary to
reform abuses which have _brought the patronage of the government into
conflict with the freedom of elections_. And what has been the
subsequent practice? Look to the newspapers; look to the published
letters of officers of the government, advising, exhorting, soliciting,
friends and partisans to greater exertions in the cause of the party;
see all done, everywhere, which patronage and power can do, to affect,
not only elections in the general government, but also in every State
government, and then say how well _this_ promise of reforming abuses has
been kept. At what former period, under what former administration, did
public officers of the United States thus interfere in elections?
Certainly, Sir, never. In this respect, then, as well as in others, that
which was not true as a charge against previous administrations would
have been true, if it had assumed the form of a prophecy respecting the
acts of the present.

But there is another attempt to grasp and to wield a power over public
opinion, of a still more daring character, and far more dangerous

In all popular governments, a FREE PRESS is the most important of all
agents and instruments. It not only expresses public opinion, but, to a
very great degree, it contributes to form that opinion. It is an engine
for good or for evil, as it may be directed; but an engine of which
nothing can resist the force. The conductors of the press, in popular
governments, occupy a place, in the social and political system, of the
very highest consequence. They wear the character of public instructors.
Their daily labors bear directly on the intelligence, the morals, the
taste, and the public spirit of the country. Not only are they
journalists, recording political occurrences, but they discuss
principles, they comment on measures, they canvass characters; they hold
a power over the reputation, the feelings, the happiness of individuals.
The public ear is always open to their addresses, the public sympathy
easily made responsive to their sentiments. It is indeed, Sir, a
distinction of high honor, that theirs is the only profession expressly
protected and guarded by constitutional enactments. Their employment
soars so high, in its general consequences it is so intimately connected
with the public happiness, that its security is provided for by the
fundamental law. While it acts in a manner worthy of this distinction,
the press is a fountain of light, and a source of gladdening warmth. It
instructs the public mind, and animates the spirit of patriotism. Its
loud voice suppresses every thing which would raise itself against the
public liberty; and its blasting rebuke causes incipient despotism to
perish in the bud.

But remember, Sir, that these are the attributes of a FREE press only.
And is a press that is purchased or pensioned more free than a press
that is fettered? Can the people look for truths to partial sources,
whether rendered partial through fear or through favor? Why shall not a
manacled press be trusted with the maintenance and defence of popular
rights? Because it is supposed to be under the influence of a power
which may prove greater than the love of truth. Such a press may screen
abuses in government, or be silent. It may fear to speak. And may it not
fear to speak, too, when its conductors, if they speak in any but one
way, may lose their means of livelihood? Is dependence on government for
bread no temptation to screen its abuses? Will the press always speak
the truth, when the truth, if spoken, may be the means of silencing it
for the future? Is the truth in no danger, is the watchman under no
temptation, when he can neither proclaim the approach of national evils,
nor seem to descry them, without the loss of his place?

Mr. President, an open attempt to secure the aid and friendship of the
public press, by bestowing the emoluments of office on its active
conductors, seems to me, of every thing we have witnessed, to be the
most reprehensible. It degrades both the government and the press. As
far as its natural effect extends, it turns the palladium of liberty
into an engine of party. It brings the agency, activity, energy, and
patronage of government all to bear, with united force, on the means of
general intelligence, and on the adoption or rejection of political
opinions. It so completely perverts the true object of government, it so
entirely revolutionizes our whole system, that the chief business of
those in power is directed rather to the propagation of opinions
favorable to themselves, than to the execution of the laws. This
propagation of opinions, through the press, becomes the main
administrative duty. Some fifty or sixty editors of leading journals
have been appointed to office by the present executive. A stand has been
made against this proceeding, in the Senate, with partial success; but,
by means of appointments which do not come before the Senate, or other
means, the number has been carried to the extent I have mentioned.
Certainly, Sir, the editors of the public journals are not to be
disfranchised. Certainly they are fair candidates, either for popular
elections, or a just participation in office. Certainly they reckon in
their number some of the first geniuses, the best scholars, and the most
honest and well-principled men in the country. But the complaint is
against the _system_, against the _practice_, against the undisguised
attempt to secure the favor of the press by means addressed to its
pecuniary interest, and these means, too, drawn from the public
treasury, being no other than the appointed compensations for the
performance of official duties. Sir, the press itself should resent
this. Its own character for purity and independence is at stake. It
should resist a connection rendering it obnoxious to so many
imputations. It should point to its honorable denomination in our
constitutions of government, and it should maintain the character, there
ascribed to it, of a FREE PRESS.

There can, Sir, be no objection to the appointment of an editor to
office, if he is the fittest man. There can be no objection to
considering the services which, in that or in any other capacity, he may
have rendered his country. He may have done much to maintain her rights
against foreign aggression, and her character against insult. He may
have honored, as well as defended her; and may, therefore, be justly
regarded and selected, in the choice of faithful public agents. But the
ground of complaint is, that the aiding, by the press, of the election
of an individual, is rewarded, by that same individual, with the gift of
moneyed offices. Men are turned out of office, and others put in, and
receive salaries from the public treasury, on the ground, either openly
avowed or falsely denied, that they have rendered service in the
election of the very individual who makes this removal and makes this
appointment. Every man, Sir, must see that this is a vital stab at the
purity of the press. It not only assails its independence, by addressing
sinister motives to it, but it furnishes from the public treasury the
means of exciting these motives. It extends the executive power over the
press in a most daring manner. It operates to give a direction to
opinion, not favorable to the government, in the aggregate; not
favorable to the Constitution and laws; not favorable to the
legislature; but favorable to the executive alone. The consequence often
is, just what might be looked for, that the portion of the press thus
made fast to the executive interest denounces Congress, denounces the
judiciary, complains of the laws, and quarrels with the Constitution.
This exercise of the right of appointment to this end is an
augmentation, and a vast one, of the executive power, singly and alone.
It uses that power strongly against all other branches of the
government, and it uses it strongly, too, for any struggle which it may
be called on to make with the public opinion of the country. Mr.
President, I will quit this topic. There is much in it, in my judgment,
affecting, not only the purity and independence of the press, but also
the character and honor, the peace and security, of the government. I
leave it, in all its bearings, to the consideration of the people.

[Footnote 1: Hon. Nathaniel Silsbee, President of the Convention, was
Mr. Webster's colleague in the Senate at the time referred to.]



Mr. President, the executive has not only used these unaccustomed means
to prevent the passage of laws, but it has also refused to enforce the
execution of laws actually passed. An eminent instance of this is found
in the course adopted relative to the Indian intercourse law of 1802.
Upon being applied to, in behalf of the MISSIONARIES, to execute that
law, for their relief and protection, the President replied, that _the
State of Georgia having extended her laws over the Indian territory, the
laws of Congress had thereby been superseded_. This is the substance of
his answer, as communicated through the Secretary of War. He holds,
then, that the law of the State is paramount to the law of Congress. The
Supreme Court has adjudged this act of Georgia to be void, as being
repugnant to a constitutional law of the United States. But the
President pays no more regard to this decision than to the act of
Congress itself. The missionaries remain in prison, held there by a
condemnation under a law of a State which the supreme judicial tribunal
has pronounced to be null and void. The Supreme Court have decided that
the act of Congress is constitutional; that it is a binding statute;
that it has the same force as other laws, and is as much entitled to be
obeyed and executed as other laws. The President, on the contrary,
declares that the law of Congress has been superseded by the law of the
State, and therefore he will not carry its provisions into effect. Now
we know, Sir, that the Constitution of the United States declares, that
that Constitution, and all acts of Congress passed in pursuance of it,
shall be the supreme law of the land, any thing in any State law to the
contrary notwithstanding. This would seem to be a plain case, then, in
which the law should be executed. It has been solemnly decided to be in
actual force, by the highest judicial authority; its execution is
demanded for the relief of free citizens, now suffering the pains of
unjust and unlawful imprisonment; yet the President refuses to execute

In the case of the Chicago Road, some sessions ago, the President
approved the bill, but accompanied his approval by a message, saying how
far he deemed it a proper law, and how far, therefore, it ought to be
carried into execution.

In the case of the harbor bill of the late session, being applied to by
a member of Congress for directions for carrying parts of the law into
effect, he declined giving them, and made a distinction between such
parts of the law as he should cause to be executed, and such as he
should not; and his right to make this distinction has been openly
maintained, by those who habitually defend his measures. Indeed, Sir,
these, and other instances of liberties taken with plain statute laws,
flow naturally from the principles expressly avowed by the President,
under his own hand. In that important document, Sir, upon which it seems
to be his fate to stand or to fall before the American people, the veto
message, he holds the following language: "Each public officer who
takes an oath to support the Constitution, swears that he will support
it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others." Mr.
President, the general adoption of the sentiments expressed in this
sentence would dissolve our government. It would raise every man's
private opinions into a standard for his own conduct; and there
certainly is, there can be, no government, where every man is to judge
for himself of his own rights and his own obligations. Where every one
is his own arbiter, force, and not law, is the governing power. He who
may judge for himself, and decide for himself, must execute his own
decisions; and this is the law of force. I confess, Sir, it strikes me
with astonishment, that so wild, so disorganizing, a sentiment should be
uttered by a President of the United States. I should think it must have
escaped from its author through want of reflection, or from the habit of
little reflection on such subjects, if I could suppose it possible,
that, on a question exciting so much public attention, and of so much
national importance, any such extraordinary doctrine could find its way,
through inadvertence, into a formal and solemn public act. Standing as
it does, it affirms a proposition which would effectually repeal all
constitutional and all legal obligations. The Constitution declares,
that every public officer, in the State governments as well as in the
general government, shall take an oath to support the Constitution of
the United States. This is all. Would it not have cast an air of
ridicule on the whole provision, if the Constitution had gone on to add
the words, "as he understands it"? What could come nearer to a solemn
farce, than to bind a man by oath, and still leave him to be his own
interpreter of his own obligation? Sir, those who are to execute the
laws have no more a license to construe them for themselves, than those
whose only duty is to obey them. Public officers are bound to support
the Constitution; private citizens are bound to obey it; and there is no
more indulgence granted to the public officer to support the
Constitution only _as he understands it_, than to a private citizen to
obey it only _as he understands it_, and what is true of the
Constitution, in this respect, is equally true of any law. Laws are to
be executed, and to be obeyed, not as individuals may interpret them,
but according to public, authoritative interpretation and adjudication.
The sentiment of the message would abrogate the obligation of the whole
criminal code. If every man is to judge of the Constitution and the laws
for himself, if he is to obey and support them only as he may say he
understands them, a revolution, I think, would take place in the
administration of justice; and discussions about the law of treason,
murder, and arson should be addressed, not to the judicial bench, but to
those who might stand charged with such offences. The object of
discussion should be, if we run out this notion to its natural extent,
to enlighten the culprit himself how he ought to understand the law.

Mr. President, how is it possible that a sentiment so wild, and so
dangerous, so encouraging to all who feel a desire to oppose the laws,
and to impair the Constitution, should have been uttered by the
President of the United States at this eventful and critical moment? Are
we not threatened with dissolution of the Union? Are we not told that
the laws of the government shall be openly and directly resisted? Is not
the whole country looking, with the utmost anxiety, to what may be the
result of these threatened courses? And at this very moment, so full of
peril to the state, the chief magistrate puts forth opinions and
sentiments as truly subversive of all government, as absolutely in
conflict with the authority of the Constitution, as the wildest theories
of nullification. Mr. President, I have very little regard for the law,
or the logic, of nullification. But there is not an individual in its
ranks, capable of putting two ideas together, who, if you will grant him
the principles of the veto message, cannot defend all that nullification
has ever threatened.

To make this assertion good, Sir, let us see how the case stands. The
Legislature of South Carolina, it is said, will nullify the late revenue
or tariff law, because, _they say_, it is not warranted by the
Constitution of the United States, _as they understand the
Constitution_. They, as well as the President of the United States, have
sworn to support the Constitution. Both he and they have taken the same
oath, in the same words. Now, Sir, since he claims the right to
interpret the Constitution as he pleases, how can he deny the same right
to them? Is his oath less stringent than theirs? Has he a prerogative of
dispensation which they do not possess? How can he answer them, when
they tell him, that the revenue laws are unconstitutional, _as they
understand the Constitution_, and that therefore they will nullify them?
Will he reply to them, according to the doctrines of his annual message
in 1830, that _precedent_ has settled the question, if it was ever
doubtful? They will answer him in his own words in the veto message,
that, in such a case, _precedent_ is not binding. Will he say to them,
that the revenue law is a law of Congress, which must be executed until
it shall be declared void? They will answer him, that, in other cases,
he has himself refused to execute laws of Congress which had not been
declared void, but which had been, on the contrary, declared valid. Will
he urge the force of judicial decisions? They will answer, that he
himself does not admit the binding obligation of such decisions. Sir,
the President of the United States is of opinion, that an individual,
called on to execute a law, may himself judge of its constitutional
validity. Does nullification teach any thing more revolutionary than
that? The President is of opinion, that judicial interpretations of the
Constitution and the laws do not bind the consciences, and ought not to
bind the conduct, of men. Is nullification at all more disorganizing
than that? The President is of opinion, that every officer is bound to
support the Constitution only according to what ought to be, in his
private opinion, its construction. Has nullification, in its wildest
flight, ever reached to an extravagance like that? No, Sir, never. The
doctrine of nullification, in my judgment a most false, dangerous, and
revolutionary doctrine, is this: that _the State_, or _a State_, may
declare the extent of the obligations which its citizens are under to
the United States; in other words, that a State, by State laws and State
judicatures, may conclusively construe the Constitution for its own
citizens. But that every individual may construe it for himself is a
refinement on the theory of resistance to constitutional power, a
sublimation of the right of being disloyal to the Union, a free charter
for the elevation of private opinion above the authority of the
fundamental law of the state, such as was never presented to the public
view, and the public astonishment, even by nullification itself. Its
first appearance is in the veto message. Melancholy, lamentable, indeed,
Sir, is our condition, when, at a moment of serious danger and
wide-spread alarm, such sentiments are found to proceed from the chief
magistrate of the government. Sir, I cannot feel that the Constitution
is safe in such hands. I cannot feel that the present administration is
its fit and proper guardian.

But let me ask, Sir, what evidence there is, that the President is
himself opposed to the doctrines of nullification: I do not say to the
political party which now pushes these doctrines, but to the doctrines
themselves. Has he anywhere rebuked them? Has he anywhere discouraged
them? Has his influence been exerted to inspire respect for the
Constitution, and to produce obedience to the laws? Has he followed the
bright example of his predecessors? Has he held fast by the institutions
of the country? Has he summoned the good and the wise around him? Has he
admonished the country that the Union is in danger, and called on all
the patriotic to come out in its support? Alas! Sir, we have seen
nothing, nothing, of all this.

Mr. President, I shall not discuss the doctrine of nullification. I am
sure it can have no friends here. Gloss it and disguise it as we may, it
is a pretence incompatible with the authority of the Constitution. If
direct separation be not its only mode of operation, separation is,
nevertheless, its direct consequence. That a State may nullify a law of
the Union, and still remain _in_ the Union; that she may have Senators
and Representatives in the government, and yet be at liberty to disobey
and resist that government; that she may partake in the common councils,
and yet not be bound by their results; that she may control a law of
Congress, so that it shall be one thing with her, while it is another
thing with the rest of the States;--all these propositions seem to me so
absolutely at war with common sense and reason, that I do not understand
how any intelligent person can yield the slightest assent to them.
Nullification, it is in vain to attempt to conceal it, is dissolution;
it is dismemberment; it is the breaking up of the Union. If it shall
practically succeed in any one State, from that moment there are
twenty-four States in the Union no longer. Now, Sir, I think it
exceedingly probable that the President may come to an open rupture with
that portion of his original party which now constitutes what is called
the Nullification party. I think it likely he will oppose the
proceedings of that party, if they shall adopt measures coming directly
in conflict with the laws of the United States. But how will he oppose?
What will be his course of remedy? Sir, I wish to call the attention of
the Convention, and of the people, earnestly to this question,--How will
the President attempt to put down nullification, if he shall attempt it
at all?

Sir, for one, I protest in advance against such remedies as I have heard
hinted. The administration itself keeps a profound silence, but its
friends have spoken for it. We are told, Sir, that the President will
immediately employ the military force, and at once blockade Charleston!
A military remedy, a remedy by direct belligerent operation, has been
thus suggested, and nothing else has been suggested, as the intended
means of preserving the Union. Sir, there is no little reason to think,
that this suggestion is true. We cannot be altogether unmindful of the
past, and therefore we cannot be altogether unapprehensive for the
future. For one, Sir, I raise my voice beforehand against the
unauthorized employment of military power, and against superseding the
authority of the laws, by an armed force, under pretence of putting down
nullification. The President has no authority to blockade Charleston;
the President has no authority to employ military force, till he shall
be duly required so to do, by law, and by the civil authorities. His
duty is to cause the laws to be executed. His duty is to support the
civil authority. His duty is, if the laws be resisted, to employ the
military force of the country, if necessary, for their support and
execution; but to do all this in compliance only with law, and with
decisions of the tribunals. If, by any ingenious devices, those who
resist the laws escape from the reach of judicial authority, as it is
now provided to be exercised, it is entirely competent to Congress to
make such new provisions as the exigency of the case may demand. These
provisions undoubtedly would be made. With a constitutional and
efficient head of the government, with an administration really and
truly in favor of the Constitution, the country can grapple with
nullification. By the force of reason, by the progress of enlightened
opinion, by the natural, genuine patriotism of the country, and by the
steady and well-sustained operations of law, the progress of
disorganization may be successfully checked, and the Union maintained.
Let it be remembered, that, where nullification is most powerful, it is
not unopposed. Let it be remembered, that they who would break up the
Union by force have to march toward that object through thick ranks of
as brave and good men as the country can show,--men strong in character,
strong in intelligence, strong in the purity of their own motives, and
ready, always ready, to sacrifice their fortunes and their lives to the
preservation of the constitutional union of the States. If we can
relieve the country from an administration which denies to the
Constitution those powers which are the breath of its life; if we can
place the government in the hands of its friends; if we can secure it
against the dangers of irregular and unlawful military force; if it can
be under the lead of an administration whose moderation, firmness, and
wisdom shall inspire confidence and command respect,--we may yet
surmount the dangers, numerous and formidable as they are, which
surround us.

Sir, I see little prospect of overcoming these dangers without a change
of men. After all that has passed, the re-election of the present
executive will give the national sanction to sentiments and to measures
which will effectually change the government; which, in short, must
destroy the government. If the President be re-elected, with concurrent
and co-operating majorities in both houses of Congress, I do not see,
that, in four years more, all the power which is suffered to remain in
the government will not be held by the executive hand. Nullification
will proceed, or will be put down by a power as unconstitutional as
itself. The revenues will be managed by a treasury bank. The use of the
veto will be considered as sanctioned by the public voice. The Senate,
if not "cut down," will be bound down, and, the President commanding the
army and the navy, and holding all places of trust to be party property,
what will then be left, Sir, for constitutional reliance?

Sir, we have been accustomed to venerate the judiciary, and to repose
hopes of safety on that branch of the government. But let us not deceive
ourselves. The judicial power cannot stand for a long time against the
executive power. The judges, it is true, hold their places by an
independent tenure; but they are mortal. That which is the common lot of
humanity must make it necessary to renew the benches of justice. And how
will they be filled? Doubtless, Sir, they will be filled by judges
agreeing with the President in his constitutional opinions. If the court
is felt as an obstacle, the first opportunity and every opportunity will
certainly be embraced to give it less and less the character of an
obstacle. Sir, without pursuing these suggestions, I only say that the
country must prepare itself for any change in the judicial department
such as it shall deliberately sanction in other departments.

But, Sir, what is the prospect of change? Is there any hope that the
national sentiment will recover its accustomed tone, and restore to the
government a just and efficient administration?

Sir, if there be something of doubt on this point, there is also
something, perhaps much, of hope. The popularity of the present chief
magistrate, springing from causes not connected with his administration
of the government, has been great. Public gratitude for military service
has remained fast to him, in defiance of many things in his civil
administration calculated to weaken its hold. At length there are
indications, not to be mistaken, of new sentiments and new impressions.
At length, a conviction of danger to important interests, and to the
security of the government, has made its lodgement in the public mind.
At length, public sentiment begins to have its free course and to
produce its just effects. I fully believe, Sir, that a great majority of
the nation desire a change in the administration; and that it will be
difficult for party organization or party denunciation to suppress the
effective utterance of that general wish. There are unhappy differences,
it is true, about the fit person to be successor to the present
incumbent in the chief magistracy; and it is possible that this disunion
may, in the end, defeat the will of the majority. But so far as we agree
together, let us act together. Wherever our sentiments concur, let our
hands co-operate. If we cannot at present agree who should be
President, we are at least agreed who ought not to be. I fully believe,
Sir, that gratifying intelligence is already on the wing. While we are
yet deliberating in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania is voting. This week,
she elects her members to the next Congress. I doubt not the result of
that election will show an important change in public sentiment in that
State; nor can I doubt that the great States adjoining her, holding
similar constitutional principles and having similar interests, will
feel the impulse of the same causes which affect her. The people of the
United States, by a countless majority, are attached to the
Constitution. If they shall be convinced that it is in danger, they will
come to its rescue, and will save it. It cannot be destroyed, even now,
if THEY will undertake its guardianship and protection.

But suppose, Sir, there was less hope than there is, would that
consideration weaken the force of our obligations? Are we at a post
which we are at liberty to desert when it becomes difficult to hold it?
May we fly at the approach of danger? Does our fidelity to the
Constitution require no more of us than to enjoy its blessings, to bask
in the prosperity which it has shed around us and our fathers? and are
we at liberty to abandon it in the hour of its peril, or to make for it
but a faint and heartless struggle, for the want of encouragement and
the want of hope? Sir, if no State come to our succor, if everywhere
else the contest should be given up, here let it be protracted to the
last moment. Here, where the first blood of the Revolution was shed, let
the last effort be made for that which is the greatest blessing obtained
by the Revolution, a free and united government. Sir, in our endeavors
to maintain our existing forms of government, we are acting not for
ourselves alone, but for the great cause of constitutional liberty all
over the globe. We are trustees holding a sacred treasure, in which all
the lovers of freedom have a stake. Not only in revolutionized France,
where there are no longer subjects, where the monarch can no longer say,
I am the state; not only in reformed England, where our principles, our
institutions, our practice of free government, are now daily quoted and
commended; but in the depths of Germany, also, and among the desolated
fields and the still smoking ashes of Poland, prayers are uttered for
the preservation of our union and happiness. We are surrounded, Sir, by
a cloud of witnesses. The gaze of the sons of liberty, everywhere, is
upon us, anxiously, intently, upon us. They may see us fall in the
struggle for our Constitution and government, but Heaven forbid that
they should see us recreant.

At least, Sir, let the star of Massachusetts be the last which shall be
seen to fall from heaven, and to plunge into the utter darkness of
disunion. Let her shrink back, let her hold others back if she can, at
any rate, let her keep herself back, from this gulf, full at once of
fire and of blackness; yes, Sir, as far as human foresight can scan, or
human imagination fathom, full of the fire and the blood of civil war,
and of the thick darkness of general political disgrace, ignominy, and
ruin. Though the worst may happen that can happen, and though she may
not be able to prevent the catastrophe, yet let her maintain her own
integrity, her own high honor, her own unwavering fidelity, so that with
respect and decency, though with a broken and a bleeding heart, she may
pay the last tribute to a glorious, departed, free Constitution.



Sir, there is one other subject on which I wish to raise my voice. There
is a topic which I perceive is to become the general war-cry of party,
on which I take the liberty to warn the country against delusion. Sir,
the cry is to be raised that this is a question between the poor and the
rich. I know, Sir, it has been proclaimed, that one thing was certain,
that there was always a hatred on the part of the poor toward the rich;
and that this hatred would support the late measures, and the putting
down of the bank. Sir, I will not be silent at the threat of such a
detestable fraud on public opinion. If but ten men, or one man, in the
nation will hear my voice, I will still warn them against this attempted

Mr. President, this is an eventful moment. On the great questions which
occupy us, we all look for some decisive movement of public opinion. As
I wish that movement to be free, intelligent, and unbiassed, the true
manifestation of the public will, I desire to prepare the country for
another appeal, which I perceive is about to be made to popular
prejudice, another attempt to obscure all distinct views of the public
good, to overwhelm all patriotism and all enlightened self-interest, by
loud cries against false danger, and by exciting the passions of one
class against another. I am not mistaken in the omen; I see the magazine
whence the weapons of this warfare are to be drawn. I hear already the
din of the hammering of arms preparatory to the combat. They may be such
arms, perhaps, as reason, and justice, and honest patriotism cannot
resist. Every effort at resistance, it is possible, may be feeble and
powerless; but, for one, I shall make an effort,--an effort to be begun
now, and to be carried on and continued, with untiring zeal, till the
end of the contest.

Sir, I see, in those vehicles which carry to the people sentiments from
high places, plain declarations that the present controversy is but a
strife between one part of the community and another. I hear it boasted
as the unfailing security, the solid ground, never to be shaken, on
which recent measures rest, _that the poor naturally hate the rich_. I
know that, under the cover of the roofs of the Capitol, within the last
twenty-four hours, among men sent here to devise means for the public
safety and the public good, it has been vaunted forth, as matter of
boast and triumph, that one cause existed powerful enough to support
every thing and to defend every thing; and that was, _the natural hatred
of the poor to the rich_.

Sir, I pronounce the author of such sentiments to be guilty of
attempting a detestable fraud on the community; a double fraud; a fraud
which is to cheat men out of their property, and out of the earnings of
their labor, by first cheating them out of their understandings.

"The natural hatred of the poor to the rich!" Sir, it shall not be till
the last moment of my existence,--it shall be only when I am drawn to
the verge of oblivion, when I shall cease to have respect or affection
for any thing on earth,--that I will believe the people of the United
States capable of being effectually deluded, cajoled, and _driven about
in herds_, by such abominable frauds as this. If they shall sink to that
point, if they so far cease to be men, thinking men, intelligent men, as
to yield to such pretences and such clamor, they will be slaves already;
slaves to their own passions, slaves to the fraud and knavery of
pretended friends. They will deserve to be blotted out of all the
records of freedom; they ought not to dishonor the cause of
self-government, by attempting any longer to exercise it; they ought to
keep their unworthy hands entirely off from the cause of republican
liberty, if they are capable of being the victims of artifices so
shallow, of tricks so stale, so threadbare, so often practised, so much
worn out, on serfs and slaves.

"The natural hatred of the poor against the rich!" "The danger of a
moneyed aristocracy!" "A power as great and dangerous as that resisted
by the Revolution!" "A call to a new declaration of independence!" Sir,
I admonish the people against the object of outcries like these. I
admonish every industrious laborer in the country to be on his guard
against such delusion. I tell him the attempt is to play off his
passions against his interests, and to prevail on him, in the name of
liberty, to destroy all the fruits of liberty; in the name of
patriotism, to injure and afflict his country; and in the name of his
own independence, to destroy that very independence, and make him a
beggar and a slave. Has he a dollar? He is advised to do that which will
destroy half its value. Has he hands to labor? Let him rather fold them,
and sit still, than be pushed on, by fraud and artifice, to support
measures which will render his labor useless and hopeless.

Sir, the very man, of all others, who has the deepest interest in a
sound currency, and who suffers most by mischievous legislation in money
matters, is the man who earns his daily bread by his daily toil. A
depreciated currency, sudden changes of prices, paper money, falling
between morning and noon, and falling still lower between noon and
night,--these things constitute the very harvest-time of speculators,
and of the whole race of those who are at once idle and crafty; and of
that other race, too, the Catilines of all times, marked, so as to be
known for ever by one stroke of the historian's pen, _those greedy of
other men's property and prodigal of their own_. Capitalists, too, may
outlive such times. They may either prey on the earnings of labor, by
their _cent. per cent._, or they may hoard. But the laboring man, what
can he hoard? Preying on nobody, he becomes the prey of all. His
property is in his hands. His reliance, his fund, his productive
freehold, his all, is his labor. Whether he work on his own small
capital, or another's, his living is still earned by his industry; and
when the money of the country becomes depreciated and debased, whether
it be adulterated coin or paper without credit, that industry is robbed
of its reward. He then labors for a country whose laws cheat him out of
his bread. I would say to every owner of every quarter-section of land
in the West, I would say to every man in the East who follows his own
plough, and to every mechanic, artisan, and laborer in every city in the
country,--I would say to every man, everywhere, who wishes by honest
means to gain an honest living, "Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.
Whoever attempts, under whatever popular cry, to shake the stability of
the public currency, bring on distress in money matters, and drive the
country into the use of paper money, stabs your interest and your
happiness to the heart."

The herd of hungry wolves who live on other men's earnings will rejoice
in such a state of things. A system which absorbs into their pockets the
fruits of other men's industry is the very system for them. A government
that produces or countenances uncertainty, fluctuations, violent
risings and fallings in prices, and, finally, paper money, is a
government exactly after their own heart. Hence these men are always for
change. They will never let well enough alone. A condition of public
affairs in which property is safe, industry certain of its reward, and
every man secure in his own hard-earned gains, is no paradise for them.
Give them just the reverse of this state of things; bring on change, and
change after change; let it not be known to-day what will be the value
of property to-morrow; let no man be able to say whether the money in
his pockets at night will be money or worthless rags in the morning; and
depress labor till double work shall earn but half a living,--give them
this state of things, and you give them the consummation of their
earthly bliss.

Sir, the great interest of this great country, the producing cause of
all its prosperity, is labor! labor! labor! We are a laboring community.
A vast majority of us all live by industry and actual employment in some
of their forms. The Constitution was made to protect this industry, to
give it both encouragement and security; but, above all, security. To
that very end, with that precise object in view, power was given to
Congress over the currency, and over the money system of the country. In
forty years' experience, we have found nothing at all adequate to the
beneficial execution of this trust but a well-conducted national bank.
That has been tried, returned to, tried again, and always found
successful. If it be not the proper thing for us, let it be soberly
argued against; let something better be proposed; let the country
examine the matter coolly, and decide for itself. But whoever shall
attempt to carry a question of this kind by clamor, and violence, and
prejudice; whoever would rouse the people by appeals, false and
fraudulent appeals, to their love of independence, to resist the
establishment of a useful institution, because it is a bank, and deals
in money, and who artfully urges these appeals wherever he thinks there
is more of honest feeling than of enlightened judgment,--means nothing
but deception. And whoever has the wickedness to conceive, and the
hardihood to avow, a purpose to break down what has been found, in forty
years' experience, essential to the protection of all interests, by
arraying one class against another, and by acting on such a principle as
_that the poor always hate the rich_, shows himself the reckless enemy
of all. An enemy to his whole country, to all classes, and to every man
in it, he deserves to be marked especially _as the poor man's curse_!



Mr. President,--The honorable member from Georgia stated yesterday, more
distinctly than I have before learned it, what that experiment is which
the government is now trying on the revenues and the currency, and, I
may add, on the commerce, manufactures, and agriculture of this country.
If I rightly apprehend him, this experiment is an attempt to return to
an exclusive specie currency, first, by employing the State banks as a
substitute for the Bank of the United States; and then by dispensing
with the use of the State banks themselves.

This, Sir, is the experiment. I thank the gentleman for thus stating its
character. He has done his duty, and dealt fairly with the people, by
this exhibition of what the views of the executive government are, at
this interesting moment. It is certainly most proper that the people
should see distinctly to what end or for what object it is that so much
suffering is already upon them, and so much more already in visible and
near prospect.

And now, Sir, is it possible,--is it possible that twelve millions of
intelligent people can be expected voluntarily to subject themselves to
severe distress, of unknown duration, for the purpose of making trial of
an experiment like this? Will a nation that is intelligent, well
informed of its own interest, enlightened, and capable of
self-government, submit to suffer embarrassment in all its pursuits,
loss of capital, loss of employment, and a sudden and dead stop in its
onward movement in the path of prosperity and wealth, until it shall be
ascertained whether this new-hatched theory shall answer the hopes of
those who have devised it? Is the country to be persuaded to bear every
thing, and bear patiently, until the operation of such an experiment,
adopted for such an avowed object, and adopted, too, without the
co-operation or consent of Congress, and by the executive power alone,
shall exhibit its results?

In the name of the hundreds of thousands of our suffering
fellow-citizens, I ask, for what reasonable end is this experiment to be
tried? What great and good object, worth so much cost, is it to
accomplish? What enormous evil is to be remedied by all this
inconvenience and all this suffering? What great calamity is to be
averted? Have the people thronged our doors, and loaded our tables with
petitions for relief against the pressure of some political mischief,
some notorious misrule, which this experiment is to redress? Has it been
resorted to in an hour of misfortune, calamity, or peril, to save the
state? Is it a measure of remedy, yielded to the importunate cries of an
agitated and distressed nation? Far, Sir, very far from all this. There
was no calamity, there was no suffering, there was no peril, when these
measures began. At the moment when this experiment was entered upon,
these twelve millions of people were prosperous and happy, not only
beyond the example of all others, but even beyond their own example in
times past.

There was no pressure of public or private distress throughout the whole
land. All business was prosperous, all industry was rewarded, and
cheerfulness and content universally prevailed. Yet, in the midst of all
this enjoyment, with so much to heighten and so little to mar it, this
experiment comes upon us, to harass and oppress us at present, and to
affright us for the future. Sir, it is incredible; the world abroad will
not believe it; it is difficult even for us to credit, who see it with
our own eyes, that the country, at such a moment, should put itself upon
an experiment fraught with such immediate and overwhelming evils, and
threatening the property and the employments of the people, and all
their social and political blessings, with severe and long-enduring
future inflictions.

And this experiment, with all its cost, is to be tried, for what? Why,
simply, Sir, to enable us to try another "experiment"; and that other
experiment is, to see whether an exclusive specie currency may not be
better than a currency partly specie and partly bank paper! The object
which it is hoped we may effect, by patiently treading this path of
endurance, is to banish all bank paper, of all kinds, and to have coined
money, and coined money only, as the actual currency of the country!

Now, Sir, I altogether deny that such an object is at all desirable,
even if it could be attained. I know, indeed, that all paper ought to
circulate on a specie basis; that all bank-notes, to be safe, must be
convertible into gold and silver at the will of the holder; and I admit,
too, that the issuing of very small notes by many of the State banks has
too much reduced the amount of specie actually circulating. It may be
remembered that I called the attention of Congress to this subject in
1832, and that the bill which then passed both houses for renewing the
bank charter contained a provision designed to produce some restraint on
the circulation of very small notes. I admit there are conveniences in
making small payments in specie; and I have always, not only admitted,
but contended, that, if all issues of bank-notes under five dollars were
discontinued, much more specie would be retained in the country, and in
the circulation; and that great security would result from this. But we
are now debating about an _exclusive_ specie currency; and I deny that
an exclusive specie currency is the best currency for any highly
commercial country; and I deny, especially, that such a currency would
be best suited to the condition and circumstances of the United States.
With the enlightened writers and practical statesmen of all commercial
communities in modern times, I have supposed it to be admitted that a
well regulated, properly restrained, safely limited paper currency,
circulating on an adequate specie basis, was a thing to be desired, a
political public advantage to be obtained, if it might be obtained; and,
more especially, I have supposed that in a new country, with resources
not yet half developed, with a rapidly increasing population and a
constant demand for more and more capital,--that is to say, in just such
a country as the United States are, I have supposed that it was admitted
that there are particular and extraordinary advantages in a safe and
well regulated paper currency; because in such a country well regulated
bank paper not only supplies a convenient medium of payments and of
exchange, but also, by the expansion of that medium in a reasonable and
safe degree, the amount of circulation is kept more nearly commensurate
with the constantly increasing amount of property; and an extended
capital, in the shape of credit, comes to the aid of the enterprising
and the industrious. It is precisely on this credit, created by
reasonable expansion of the currency in a new country, that men of small
capital carry on their business. It is exactly by means of this, that
industry and enterprise are stimulated. If we were driven back to an
exclusively metallic currency, the necessary and inevitable consequence
would be, that all trade would fall into the hands of large capitalists.
This is so plain, that no man of reflection can doubt it. I know not,
therefore, in what words to express my astonishment, when I hear it said
that the present measures of government are intended for the good of the
many instead of the few, for the benefit of the poor, and against the
rich; and when I hear it proposed, at the same moment, to do away with
the whole system of credit, and place all trade and commerce, therefore,
in the hands of those who have adequate capital to carry them on without
the use of any credit at all. This, Sir, would be dividing society, by a
precise, distinct, and well-defined line, into two classes; first, the
small class, who have competent capital for trade, when credit is out of
the question; and, secondly, the vastly numerous class of those whose
living must become, in such a state of things, a mere manual occupation,
without the use of capital or of any substitute for it.

Now, Sir, it is the effect of a well-regulated system of paper credit to
break in upon this line thus dividing the many from the few, and to
enable more or less of the more numerous class to pass over it, and to
participate in the profits of capital by means of a safe and convenient
substitute for capital; and thus to diffuse far more widely the general
earnings, and therefore the general prosperity and happiness, of
society. Every man of observation must have witnessed, in this country,
that men of heavy capital have constantly complained of bank
circulation, and a consequent credit system, as injurious to the rights
of capital. They undoubtedly feel its effects. All that is gained by the
use of credit is just so much subtracted from the amount of their own
accumulations, and so much the more has gone to the benefit of those who
bestow their own labor and industry on capital in small amounts. To the


Back to Full Books