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growing importance of this subject may, I hope, justify a few remarks, relative to it, on the present occasion.
It was evident to all persons of much observation, at the close of the late war, that the condition and prospects of the United States had become essentially changed, in regard to sundry great interests of the country. Almost from the commencement of the government, down near to the commencement of that war, the United States had occupied a position of singular and extraordinary advantage. They had been at peace, while the powers of Europe had been at war. The harvest of neutrality had been to them rich and ample; and they had reaped it with skill and diligence. Their agriculture and commerce had both felt sensibly, the benefit arising from the existing state of the world. Bread was raised for those whose hands were otherwise employed than in the cultivation of the field, and the seas were navigated, for account of such, as being belligerents, could not safely navigate them for themselves. These opportunities for useful employment were all seized and enjoyed, by the enterprise of the country; and a high degree of prosperity was the natural result.
But with general peace, a new state of things arose. The European states at once turned their own attention to the pursuits, proper for their new situation, and sought to extend their own agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial interests. It was evident, that thenceforward, instead of enjoying the advantages peculiar to neutrality, in times of war, a general competition would spring up, and nothing was to be expected without a struggle. Other nations would now raise their own bread, and as far as possible, transport their own commodities; and the export trade, and the carrying trade of this country, were, therefore, certain to receive new and powerful competition, if not sudden and violent checks. It seemed reasonable, therefore, in this state of things, to turn our thoughts inwards, to explore the hitherto unexplored resourses of our own country, to find out, if we could, new diversifications of industry, new subjects for the application of labor at home. It was fit to consider how far home productions could, properly, be made to furnish activity to home supply; and since the country stretched over so many parallels of latitude and longitude, abounding, of course, in the natural productions proper to each, it was of the highest importance to inquire what means existed of establishing free and cheap intercourse, between those parts, thereby bringing the raw material, abounding in one, under the action of the productive labor which was found in another, Roads and Canals, therefore, were seen to be of the first consequence. And then the interesting question arose; how far it was constitutionally lawful, and how far expedient, for the general government to give aid and succour to the business of making roads and canals, in conjunction with individual enterprise, or State undertakings. I am among those who have held the opinion that if any object of that kind be of general and national importance, it is within the scope of the powers of the government; though I admit it to be a power which should be exereised with very great care and discretion. Congress has power to regulate commerce, both internal and external; and whatever might have been thought to be the literal interpretation of these terms, we know the construction to have been, from the very first assembling of Congress, and by the very men who framed the Constitution, that the regulation of commerce comprehended such measures as were necessary for its support, its improvement, its advancement; and justified such expenditures as Piers, Beacons, and Lighthouses, and the clearing out of harbours required. Instances of this sort, in the application of the general revenues, have been frequent, from the commencement of the government. * As the same power, precisely, exists in relation to internal as to external trade, it was not easy to see why like expenditures might not be justified, when made on internal objects. The vast regions of the West are penetrated by rivers, to which those of Europe are but as rills and brooks.—But the navigation of these noble streams, washing, as they do, the margin of one third of the States of the Union, was obstructed by obstacles, capable of being removed, and yet not likely to be removed, but by the power of the general government. Was this a justifiable object of expenditure from the national treasury? Without hesitation, I have thought it was. A vast chain of lakes, if it be not more proper to call them a succession of inland seas, stretches into the deep interior of this northern part of the continent, as if kindly placed there by Providence to break the continuity of the land, and afford the easier and readier intercourse of water conveyance.—But these vast lakes required, also, harbours, and lights, and breakwaters? And were these lawful objects of national legislation? To me, certainly, they have appeared to be such, as clearly as if they were on the Atlantic border.
In most of the new States of the West, the United States are yet proprietors of vast bodies of land. Through some of these States, and sometimes through these same public lands, the local authorities have prepared to carry expensive canals, for the general benefit of the country. Some of these undertakings have been attended with great expense, have subjected the States, where enterprising spirit has begun and carried them on, to large debts, and heavy taxation. The lands of the United States being exempted from all taxation, of course bear no part of this burden. Looking to the United States, therefore, as a great landed proprietor, essentially benefited by these improvements, I have felt no difficulty in voting for the appropriation of parts of these lands, as a reasonable contribution by the United States to these general objects.
Most of the subjects to which I have referred, are much less local, in their influence, and importance, than they might seem. The breakwater in the Delaware, useful to Philadelphia, is useful also to all the ship-owners in the United States, and indeed to all interested in commerce, especially that great branch, the coast wise commerce. If the mouths of the southern rivers be deepened and improved, the neighbouring cities are benefited, but so also are the ships which visit them; and if the Mississippi and Ohio be rendered more safe for navigation, the great markets of consumption along their shores are the more readily and cheaply approached by the products of the Factories and the Fisheries of New England."
It is my opinion, Mr. President, that the present government cannot be maintained but by administering it on principles as wide and broad as the country over which it extends. I mean, of course, no
exteasion of the powers which it confers; but I speak of the spirit with which those powers should be exercised. If there be any doubts, whether so many republics, covering so great a portion of the globe, can be long held together under this Constitution, there is no doubt in my judgment, of the impossibility of so holding them together by any narrow, contracted, local, or selfish system of legislation. To render the Constitution perpetual, (which God grant it may be) it is necessary that its benefits should be practically felt, by all parts of the country, and all interests in the country. The East and the West, the North and the South, must all see their own welfare protected and advanced by it. While the eastern frontier is defended by fortifications, its harbours improved, and commerce defended by a naval force, it is right and just that the region beyond the Alleghany should receive fair consideration and equal attention, in any object of public improvement, interesting to itself, and within the proper power of the government.--These, sir, are, in brief, the general views by which I have been governed, on questions of this kind; and I trust they are such as this meeting does not disapprove.
I would not trespass farther upon your attention, if I did not feel it my duty to say a few words on the condition of public affairs under another aspect. We are on the eve of a new election for President; and the manner in which the existing administration is attacked might lead a stranger to suppose, that the Chief Magistrate had committed some flagrant offence against the country, threatened to overturn its liberties, or establish a military usurpation. On a former occasion I have, in this place, expressed my opinion of the principle, upon which the opposition to the administration is founded; without any reference whatever to the person who stands as its apparent head, and who is intended by it to be placed in the chief executive chair. I think that principle exceedingly dangerous and alarming, inasmuch as it does not profess to found opposition to the government on the measures of government, but to rest it on other causes, and those mostly personal. There is a combination, or association, of persons holding the most opposite opinions, both on the constitutional powers of the government, and on the leading measures of public concern, and uniting in little, or in nothing, except the will to dislodge power from the hands in which the country has placed it. There has been no leading measure of the government, with perhaps a single exception, which has not been strenuously maintained by many, or by some of those, who co-operate, altogether, nevertheless, in pursuit of the object which I have mentioned. This is but one of many proofs that the opposition does not rest in the principle of disapprobation of the measures of government. Many other evidences of the same truth, might be adduced easily. A remarkable one is, that while one ground of objection to the administration is urged in one place, its precise opposite is pressed in another. Pennsylvania and South Carolina, for example, are not treated with the same reasons for a change of administration; but with flatly contradictory reasons. In one, the administration is represented as bent on a particular system, oppressive to that State, and which must ultimately ruin it; and for that reason there ought to be a change. In the other, that system, instead of being ruinous, is salutary, is necessary,
in relation to the gentlemen holding the highest appointment in the Executive Department, under the President, he would take this opportunity to say, that having been a member of the House of Representatives for six years, during the far greater part of which time Mr. Clay had presided in that House, he was most happy in being able, in a manner less formal than by concurring in the usual Vote of thanks, to express his own opinion of his liberality, independence, and honorable feeling. And he would take this occasion also to add, if his opinion could be of any value in such a case, that he thought nothing more unfounded than that that gentleman owed his present situation to any unworthy compromise or arrangement whatever. He owed it to his talent, to his prominent standing in the community, to his course of public service, not now a short one, and to the high estimation in which he stands with that part of the country to which he belongs.
Remarks, Mr. Webster proceeded to say, had been made from the Chair, very kind and partial, as to the manner in which he had discharged the duties which he owed to his constituents, in the Hlouse of Representatives. He wished to say, that if he had been able to render any, the humblest services, either to the public or his constituents, in that place, it was owing wholly to the liberal manner in which his efforts there had been received.
Having alluded to the Inaugural Address, he did not mean in the slightest degree to detract from its merits, when he now said, that in his opinion, il either of the other candidates had succeeded in the election, he also would have adopted a liberal course of policy. He had no reason to believe that the sentiments of either of those gentlemen were, in this respect, narrow or contracted. He fully believed the contrary, in regard to both of them; but if they had been otherwise, he thought still, that expediency or necessity, would have controlled their inclinations.
I forbear, said Mr. W., from pursuing these remarks farther. I repeat, that I do not complain of those who have hitherto thought, or who still think, that party organization is necessary to the public good. I do not question their motives; and I wish to be tolerant even to those who think that toleration ought not to be indulged.
It is said, sir, that prosperity sometimes hardens the heart. Perhaps, also, it may sometimes have a contrary effect, and elevate and liberalize the feelings. If this can ever be the result of such a cause, there is certainly in the present condition of the country enough to inspire the most grateful and the kindest feelings. We have a common stock both of happiness and of distinction, of which we are all entitled as citizens of the country to partake. We may all rejoice in the general prosperity, in the peace and security which we enjoy, and in the brilliant success which has thus far attended our republican institutions. These are circumstances which may well excite in us all a noble pride. Our civil and political institutions, while they answer for us all the great ends designed by them, furnish at the same time an example to others, and diffuse blessings beyond our own limits.--In whatever part of the globe men are found contending for political liberty, they look to the United States