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beyond a very limited circle, I have passed days and nights, not of tedious, but of happy and gratified labor, in the study of the judicature of the State of New York. I am most happy to have this opportunity of publicly acknowledging the obligation, and of repaying it, so far as it can be repaid, by the poor tribute of my profound regard, and most sincere good wishes.
Gentlemen, I will no longer detain you than to propose a toast.
“ The City of New YORK; HERSELF THE NOBLEST EULOGY ON . THE UNION OF THE STATES."
AT THE DINNER IN HONOR OF THE CENTENNIAL BIRTH-DAY OF
On the 22d day of February, 1832, being the Centennial Birth-Day of GEORGE WASHINGTON, a number of Gentlemen, from different parts of the United States, honored the occasion by a Public Dinner, at Barnard's Hotel, in the City of Washington.
The arrangements for the Dinner were made under the direction of a Com mittee, consisting of Mr. Chambers, of Maryland; Mr. Waggaman, of Louisiana; Mr. Letcher, of Kentucky ; Mr. Bates, of Massachusetts; Mr. Peters, of Pennsylvania.
According to the arrangements by this Committee, Mr. Webster, Senator of the United States, from the State of Massachusetts, presided; and Gen. Charles Fenton Mercer, a Representative from Virginia, Gen. Walter Jones, of the District of Columbia, and Gen. Joseph Vance, a Representative from Ohio, were selected to act as Vice-Presidents.
After the Dinner was removed, information was given by the Chairman of the Committee of Arrangements, that the President of the Day would announce the Toasts prepared for the occasion.
Mr. WEBSTER, the President of the Day, then rose, and addressed the Company to the following effect :
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 have 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 forever 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, or 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 imbodied 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 master-pieces 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 publie 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, has lived, his whole public life has been incorporated, as it were, into the Constitution ; in the original conception and project of attempting to form it, in its actual framing, in explaining and recommending it, by speaking and writing, in assisting at the first organization of the Government under it, and in a long administration of its executive powers,-in those various ways he has lived near the Constitution, and with the power of imbibing its true spirit, and inhaling its very breath, from its first pulsation of life. Again, therefore, I ask, If he cannot tell us what the Constitution is, and what it means, who can? He had retired with the respect and regard of the community, and might naturally be supposed not willing to interfere again in matters of political concern. He has, nevertheless, not withholden his opinions on the vital question discussed on that occasion, which has caused this meeting. He has stated, with an accuracy almost peculiar to bimself, and so stated, as, in my opinion, to place almost beyond further controversy, the true doctrines of the Constitution. He has stated, not notions too loose and irregular to be called even a theory-not ideas struck out by the feeling of present inconvenience or supposed mal-administration—not suggestions of expediency, or evasions of fair and straight-forward construction, but elementary principles, clear and sound distinctions, and indispensable truths. I am sure, Gentlemen, that I speak your sentiments, as well as my own, when I say, that, for making public so clearly and distinctly as he has done, his own opinions on these vital questions of Constitutional law, Mr. Madison has founded a new and strong claim on the gratitude of a grateful country. You will think, with me, that, at his advanced age, and in the enjoyment of general respect and approbation, for a long career of public services, it was an act of distinguished patriotism, when he saw notions promulgated and maintained, which he deemed unsound and dangerous, not to hesitate to come forward, and to place the weight of his own opinion in what he deemed the right scale, come what, come might. I am sure, Gentlemen, it cannot be doubted,—the manifestation is clear,—that the country feels deeply the force of this new obligation.
Gentlemen, what I have said of the benefits of the Constitution to your City, might be said, with little change, in respect to every other part of the country. Its benefits are not exclusive. What has it left undone, which any government could do, for the whole country? In what condition has it placed us? Where do we now stand? Are we elevated, or degraded, by its operation? What is our condition under its influence, at the very moment when some talk of arresting its power and breaking its unity? Do we not feel ourselves on an eminence? Do we not challenge the respect of the whole world? What has placed us thus high? What has given
us this just pride? What else is it, but the unrestrained and free operation of that same Federal Constitution, which it has been proposed now to hamper, and manacle, and nullify? Who is there among us, that, should he find himself on any spot of the earth, where human beings exist, and where the existence of other nations is known, would not be proud to say, I am an American ? I am a countryman of Washington ? I am a citizen of that Republic, which, although it has suddenly sprung up, yet there are none on the globe who have ears to hear, and have not heard of it—who have eyes to see, and have not read of it—who know any thing, and yet do not know of its existence and its glory?-And, Gentlemen, let me now reverse the picture. Let me ask, who there is among us, if he were to be found to-morrow in one of the civilized countries of Europe, and were there to learn that this goodly form of Government had been overthrown—that the United States were no longer united —that a death-blow had been struck upon their bond of Unionthat they themselves had destroyed their chief good and their chief honor,—who is there whose heart would not sink within him? Who is there, who would not cover his face for very shame?
At this very moment, Gentlemen, our country is a general refuge for the distressed and the persecuted of other nations. Whoever is in affliction from political occurrences in his own country, looks here for shelter. Whether he be republican, flying from the oppression of thrones—or whether he be monarch or monarchist, flying from thrones that crumble and fall under or around him,-he feels equal assurance, that, if he get foot-hold on our soil, his person is safe, and his rights will be respected.
And who will venture to say, that in any government, now existing in the world, there is greater security for persons or property than in that of the United States? We have tried these popular institutions in times of great excitement and commotion; and they have stood substantially firm and steady, while the fountains of the great political deep bave been elsewhere broken up; while thrones, resting on ages of prescription, have tottered and fallen; and while, in other countries, the earthquake of unrestrained popular commotion has swallowed up all law, and all liberty, and all right together. Our Government has been tried in peace, and it has been tried in war; and has proved itself fit for both. It has been assailed from without, and it has successfully resisted the shock; it has been disturbed within, and it has effectually quieted the disturbance. It can stand trial—it can stand assault—it can stand adversity,—it can stand every thing, but the marring of its own beauty, and the weakening of its own strength. It can stand every thing, but the effects of our own rashness, and our own folly. It can stand every thing, but disorganization, disunion, and nullification.