Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

REMARKS

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY 20, 1837, IN | RELATION TO THE MANUSCRIPT PAPERS OF MR. MADISON.

The joint resolution for making an appropriation for the purchase of the manuscript papers of the late President Madison, relative to the proceedings of the Convention who framed the Constitution of the United States, being under consideration,

MR. WEBSTER said he supposed that there was no member of the Senate who regarded the sum proposed to be given for these manuscripts as too large, if the appropriation was within the just field of their constitutional powers. Now, what was the object of this appropriation ? The Senate sat under a Constitution which had now endured more than fifty years, and had been formed under very peculiar circumstances, under a great exigency, and in a manner that no Constitution had ever been formed in any other country, on principles of united and yet divided legislation, altogether unexampled in the history of free states. Mr. W. agreed fully in the sentiment that the constant rule of interpretation to be applied to this instrument was, that its restrictions were contained in itself, and that it was to be made, as far as possible, its own interpreter. He also agreed that the practice under the Government, for a long course of years, and the opinions of those who both formed the instrument, and afterward aided in carrying it into effect by laws passed under its authority, was to be the next ground of interpretation; and it seemed to him that the measure now proposed was of great importance, both in connection with the Constitution itself, and with the history of its interpretation. He should not now speak of the political opinions of Mr. Madison. He looked only to the general facts of the case. It was well known that the Convention of great men who formed our Constitution sat with closed doors; that no report of their proceedings was published at that time; and that their debates were listened to by none but themselves and the officers in attendance. We had, indeed, the official journal kept by their order. It was an important document, but it informed us only of their official acts. We got from it nothing whatever of the debates in that illustrious body. Besides this, there were only a few published sketches, more or less valuable. But the connection

119

of Mr. Madison with the Constitution and the Government, and his profound knowledge of all that related to both, would necessarily give to any reports which he should have taken, a superior claim to accuracy. It was bis purpose, when he entered the body, to report its whole proceedings. He chose a position which best enabled him to do so; por had be been absent a single day during the whole period of its sittings. It was further understood that his report of the leading speeches had been submitted to the members for correction. The fact was well known to them all that he was thus collecting materials for a detailed report of their proceedings. Without, therefore, having seen a page of these manuscripts, it was reasonable to conclude that they must contain matter not only highly interesting, but very useful; and it was his impression that, among this class of cases, the Senate could not better consult the wishes and interests of the American People than to let them see a document of this character, from the pen of such a man as Madison. That gentleman had been more connected with the Constitution than almost any other individual. He had been present in that little assemblage that met at Annapolis in '86, with whom the idea of the Convention originated. He was afterwards a member of the Convention of Virginia, which ratified the Constitution. He had then been a member of the first Congress, and had taken an important lead in the great duties of its legislation, under that Constitution, in the formation of which he had acted so conspicuous a part. He had afterwards filled the important station of Secretary of State, and had subsequently been for eight years President of the United States. Thus, bis whole life had been intimately connected, first with the formation, and then with the administration of the Constitution.

Mr. W. said that he saw no constitutional objection to the purchase of these manuscripts. Why did Congress purchase every year works on History, Geography, Botany, Metaphysics, and Morals? How was it that they had purchased a collection of works of the most miscellaneous character from Mr. Jefferson ? The manuscripts in question stood in a different relation. They related immediately and intimately to the nation's own affairs, and especially to the construction of that great instrument under which the Houses of Congress were now sitting. If the doctrine advanced by the Senator from South Carolina was to prevail, Congress ought forthwith to clear its library of everything but the State papers. Mr. W.'s views on the Constitution were well known; whether an inspection of these papers would confirm and strengthen the views he entertained respecting that instrument, he could not say; but certainly, if they were now within his reach, he should be very eager to read them; and their examination would be one of the very first things that he should engage in. A report of such debates, from such a pen, could not but be of the highest importance, and its perusal was well calculated to gratify a rational curiosity. It might throw much light on the early interpretation of the Constitution, and on the nature and structure of our Government. But, while it produced this effect, it could do more than all other things to show to the People of the United States through what conciliation, through what a temper of compromise, through what a just yielding of the judgment of one individual to that of another, through what a spirit of manly and brotherly love, that assembly of illustrious men had been enabled finally to agree upon the form of a Constitution for their country, and had succeeded in conferring so great a good upon the American People.

[blocks in formation]

REMARKS

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES IN RELATION TO THE

REDUCTION OF THE DUTY ON COAL. FEBRUARY 24, 1837.

The bill to reduce the Tariff being under consideration, and Mr. Niles, of Connecticut, having moved to amend the bill as follows:

“ That, from and after the thirtieth day of September, 1837, the duty on fossil coal, culm coal screenings, and coke, imported into the United States, shall be one dollar per ton of two thousand two hundred and forty pounds; and that, after the thirtieth day of September, 1838, the duty shall be sixty cents per ton.”

Mr. Niles and Mr. Buchanan having spoken —

MR. WEBSTER observed that it had been very truly stated that coal was, in this country, a necessary of life; and an argument had thence been drawn which was capable of producing a very erroneous impression in the community, to wit, that the interest of the poor required the interposition of Congress to remove the duty now levied on its importation. Mr. W. said that, considering what had been the former course of Congress on this subject, it was as clear a proposition as could be stated that the interest of the poor required the continuance of the tax. If he were not convinced of this, he certainly should not be in favor of retaining it. Whether we looked to the debates of the Convention, or to the earliest acts of the Federal Government, we should perceive that it was admitted to be proper and necessary to levy a duty on imported coal. One of the very first articles enumerated in the first revenue law was foreign coal. The protection of the domestic article was warmly advocated, at that time, by the Virginia Delegation, as an obvious duty of the new Government; for, although all duties had had revenue as their main object, yet, ever since 1824, many of them had been continued for other purposes, and, among the rest, this duty on coal. Mr. W. had voted against retaining it; but, from that time to this, the duty had retained its place in the law, on a presumed pledge of protection to such of our own citizens as were engaged in furnishing coal from the mines of our own country. A large amount of capital had been invested in machinery and wages, and also in the construction of canals and rail-roads leading from the mines towards places of deposit or shipment. An examination would show that the sum thus invested was not less than forty millions of dollars. What, then, was the proper course to be pursued with a view to bring down the price of coal ? American coal was not the only fuel of this kind in market. It stood alongside of the imported article, and there was a fair competition between them. Was there any thing so effectual in reducing the price as a fair and free competition ? Here the skill and industry of our own and of foreign nations competed for the market; and, if any thing was likely to reduce the price of this necessary of life, and thus to benefit the poor, it was this. That taking off the duty would reduce the price was perfect nonsense. The effect would be just the reverse.

Mr. W. observed that it was this continual bringing forward of propositions to alter the most settled features of our policy, which was, in practice, so injurious to American industry and enterprise. In illustration of this remark, Mr. W. observed that it was not long since a very curious debate had taken place in London, at a meeting of the creditors of the late Duke of York. Among other items of his property, was a great coal mine in Nova Scotia. Certain trustees of the estate had been directed to work it. The question with the creditors was, whether the working of this mine should still be prosecuted, or what should be done with it. On inquiring of the trustees, those gentlemen stated that the mine was now not very productive, but that the policy of the American Government, in relation to duties, was vacillating and uncertain; that very soon the protecting duty on foreign coal would probably be taken off, and then they would have the entire American market. The proposition of the honorable Senator from Connecticut was calculated to hasten this state of things, and to justify the calculation of these British trustees. So it seemed that the motion of the creditors of the Duke of York was to aid the poor of the United States ! The effect would be found directly the reverse. The repeal of the duty would be immediately followed by an increase of the price of the article.

The speech of the honorable Senator seemed to proceed on the assumption that Pennsylvania alone was to be affected by the measure proposed, but such was by no means the fact. It was very true that Pennsylvania was largely interested. She possessed extensive coal mines, and large amounts of capital had been invested by her citizens in this branch of enterprise. But the mountains of Maryland were as rich in bituminous coal as those of Pennsylvania were in the anthracite. Why had the Government subscribed so largely to aid in the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal ? Was it not expressly with a view to reaching the exten

« AnteriorContinuar »