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mart skilful artists in this country, the piece of plate I now have the honor to exhibit to you.
They have now called their constituents together, for the purpose of presenting this Vase in their presence. Had the Committee consulted the wishes only of the gentleman for whom it is intended, this presentation might, perhaps, have taken place in a more private or less imposing manner; but, in the course they have adopted, they hove been governed by the wishes of the citizens at large. They now respectfully ask your kind indulgence while they proceed in the discharge of this part of their duty.
The Committee have appointed, as their organ of communication, the Hon. Francis C. Gray, with whom I now have the pleasure to leave the subject
Mr. G«at then rose, and spoke sa follows: —
Mr. Webster: By direction of the Committee, and in behalf of your fellow-citizens, who have caused this Vase to be made, I now request your acceptance of it They offer it in token of their high sense of your public character and services. Bui on these it were not becoming to dwell in addressing yourself. Nor is a regard for those the only, or the principal motive of those, for whom I sponk. They offer it mainly to evince the high estimation in which they hold the political sentiments and principles, which you have professed and maintained. There may undoubtedly be differences of opinion among them with regard to this or that particular measure; and B blind, indiscriminate, wholesale adhesion to the life and opinions of any one, would not be worth offering, nor worth accepting among freemen. Wo are not man-worshippers here in Massachusetts. But the great political principles, the leading views of policy, which you have been forward to assert and vindicate, these they all unite to honor; and in rendering public homage to these, they feel, that they are not so much paying a compliment to you, as performing a duty to their country.
In a free republic, where all men exercise political power, the prevalence of correct views and principles, on political subjects, is essential to the safety of the State. It is not enough that their truth should be recognized. Their operation and tendency must be understood and appreciated: they must be made familiar to the mass of the people, become closely interwoven with their whole habits of thought and feeling, objects of attachment, to which they may cling instantly and instinctively in all time of doubt or peril, so as not to be swept away by any sudden flood of prejudice or passion. Hence it is the duty of every man, to embrace all fit occasions, nay, to seek fit occasions, for declaring his adherence to such principles, and giving them the support of his influence, however high, or however humble that influence may be. There is no justice, therefore, in the complaint often made, against the members of our legislative assemblies, that they sometimes speak not for their audience merely, but for their constituents; seeking not simply to affect the decision of the question then pending, but to influence the public sentiment with regard to the principles involved in it This affords no ground of censure against them, so they speak well and wisely. The practice may be abused, no doubt; but in itself, it is a natural, inevitable right So it should be in relation to all important principles in a free country. Nothing else but the excitement, kindled by the conflict of debate, will ever make those great principles subjects of general attention and interest Nothing else out the observation of their application in practice can make them generally understood and appreciated. We all recollect questions, (and among them that on Mr. Foot's resolutions, not likely soon to be forgotten,) the vote on which was as certainly known before the discussion as after it, and known to be unalterable by any argument or persuasion; and yet, the discussion of which was so free from being uninteresting and unprofitable, that it was echoed and re-echoed through the land, making a deep and lasting impression on the public mind, establishing incontrovertibly vital principles before disputed, and thus giving new strength and stability to our free institutions, and forming, I may almost say, an epoch in our political history.
On this and similar occasions, not to dwell on your steadfast adherence to those more general principles of civil liberty, which are equally important in every age and country : on such occasions the fundamental principles peculiar to our system of government have always had in you a decided advocate, ever ready to develop and illustrate their nature and operation, and to enforce the obligations which they impose. Among the most prominent peculiarities of our system is the fact that the United States are not a confederacy of independent sovereigns, the subjects of each of whom is responsible to him alone for their compliance with the obligations of his compact; but that, for certain specified purposes, they form one nation, every citizen of which is responsible, directly, immediately, exclusively to the whole nation for the performance of his duties to the whole; that the Constitution is not a Treaty, nor any thing like a Treaty; but a frame of government, resting on the same foundations, and supported by the same sanctions, as any other government, — to be subverted only by the same means — by revolution ;— revolution to be brought about by the same authority which would warrant a revolution in any government, and by none other, — to be justified, when justifiable, by the same paramount necessity, and by nothing less. This government is not the government of the States, but that of the people; and it behoves the people, every one of the people, to do his utmost to preserve it; not in form merely, but in its full efficiency, as a practical system; to maintain the Union as it is, in all its integrity; the Constitution as it is, in all its purity, and in all its strength; — and when they are in danger, to hasten to their support promptly, frankly, fearlessly, undeterred, and unencumbered by any political combination; let who will be his companions in the good cause, and let who will hang back from it.
The other great peculiarity of our political system,— and on these two hang all the liberty and hopes of America, — is this — That the supreme power or sovereignty is divided between the State and National governments, and the portion allotted to each, distributed among several independent departments; and this, notwithstanding the maxim of European politicians, too hastily adopted by some of our own statesmen, that sovereignty is, in its nature, indivisible. By sovereignty, I do not mean, and they do not mean, the ultimate right of the people to establish and subvert governments, the right of revolution, as it has been called; for, thus understood, it would be absurd to inquire, as they constantly do, where the sovereignty resides in any particular government, since this ultimate sovereignty never can reside any where but in the people themselves. It is inherent in them and inalienable, existing equally as a right, however its exercise may be impeded, in free and despotic governments. But by sovereignty must be understood the supreme power of the government, the highest power which can lawfully be exercised by any constituted authority. Now, let the politicians of Europe say what they will of the indivisibility of this power, we know that, among us, it is in point of fact divided; that in relation to some objects, the supreme power is in the National government, subject toMio earthly control, but that of the people, exercising their right of revolution: and that in relation to others, it is in the State governments, subject to the same and to no other control; and that in each of these governments the power conferred is divided among the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial departments, each of which is entirely independent in the performance of its appropriate duties.
This system of practical checks and balances, altogether peculiar to us,
VOL. III. 4 c
ia denied to operate, and doc* operate for the reatraint of power and the protection of liberty. But, like every earthly good, it bring• with it Iu attendant evil in the danger of encroachment and collision. To guard against these dangers is one of the moat important, moat difficult, moat delicate of our public duties; to aee that the National government shall not encroach upon the po»er of the States, nor the States on that of the Nation; that no State shall interfere with the domestic legislation of another, nor lightly nor unjustly suspect another of seeking to interfere with its own; bat that each uf these si-veral governments, and every department in each, shall be strictly confined to its proper sphere; that no one shall evade any responsibility which is imposed on him by the Constitution and the Laws, ana no one assume any responsibility, which is not so.
But by what power can tins be accomplished? There is only one. Physical force will not ilo it. The system of our government has been cornered to that of the heavenly bodies, which move on, orb within orb, cycle within cycle, in apparent confusion, but in real, uninterrupted, unalterable harmonv. And the harmony of our system can only be maintained by • power, which, tike that regulating their movements, is unseen, unfclt, yet irresistible — Public Opinion.
This is the precise circumstance, which renders the prevalence of juat
Elitical views and principles peculiarly important among m, and secures to n, who labors faithfullv and successfully to promote their diffusion, the praise of having deserved well of hi* country.
The opinions of men, however, are invariably and inevitably affected by their interests and their feelings. Thii consideration opens a wide field of duty to the American Statesman, requiring him to prevent, by every meana in his power, all collisions of interest and all exasperation* of feeling—to correct and rebuke the misrepresentations which tend to array one part of the country against another, or one portion of society against another, as if their interests were adverse, whereas in truth they are one; — and, avoiding the paltry cunning, which plays off the different parte of the country against each other, sacrificing the interest of the whole to this part, to-day, on condition that they shall be sacrificed to another to-morrow, by which means they are always sacrificed; to be governed by that liberal, enlightened, farsighted policy, which, in all questions of expediency, looks invariably and exclusively to the permanent interests of the whole nation, considered as one; — which aims to impreis on the minds and the hearts of this people, deeply, indelibly, the great truth, that the prosperity and the glory of the United States, their improvement and happiness at home, their rank ainouij the nations of the earth, must be proportioned to the strength and cordiahty of their union;—aad can only be carried to their highest pitch by the universal conviction, the deep-seated and overruling sentiment, that, for the purposes set forth in the Constitution, we are one people, one and indivisible; and that for us In break the bond, that makes us one. and resolve this glorious) Umon into its original elements, would be as mad and as fatal a* for Pisgt—iJ to go back again to her Heptarchy.
The statesman, who is governed by these principles and this policy, whose great object is not to win the spoils of victory, nor even its laurels, but to fight the good fight and render faithful service to his country, will never want opportunity to merit the public gratitude, whatever may be his political position. If in the majority, considering that the duration of any Admimstration ia only a day in the existence of the Government, — and yet a day which must affect all that are to follow it, — he will never be tempted to swerve from these great principles by any temporary advantage, even to the whole commumty, still less by any local or partial benefit; and least of all by any party or personal consideration. He will not make it the chief object of government to extend and perpetuate the power of his party. He will not regard his political opponents as enemies, over whom he has triumphed and whom he is to despoil. He will not seek to throw off or evade the restraints imposed by the Constitution on all power, nor will he bestow public offices as the reward or the motive for adherence to his party or his person. If in the minority, he will find inducement enough and reward enough for the most strenuous exertion, in the conviction, that an intelligent, resolute, vigilant minority is not utterly powerless in our government, but may often control, modify, or even arrest the most pernicious schemes of reckless rulers, and diminish, if not prevent, the evils of misrule. He will consider also that in political science, as in the other moral sciences, truth must always ibrce its way slowly against general opposition, and that although the great principles, for which he contends, should not triumph in the debate of the day, they may yet, if ably sustained, ultimately triumph in the hearts of the people, and come at last to rule the land; and that, thenceforward, so long as their beneficent influence shall endure, so long as they shall be remembered upon earth, so long will his name and his praise endure, who shall have watched over them in their weakness, and struggled for them in their adversity.
But I must not be tempted beyond the tone which befits the part assigned me, which is simply to state the motives and feelings of those for whom I speak, on this occasion; and I am sure, Gentlemen, that I am the faithful interpreter of your sentiments, when I say, that it is from attachment to the great principles of civil liberty and constitutional government, that you offer this token of respect to one, who has always maintained them and been governed by them; to one, whom this people, because he has been guided by those principles, and for the sake of those principles, delight to honor; whom they honor with their confidence, whom they honor by cherishing the memory of his past services, and by their best hopes and wishes for the future, and whom they will honor, let who else may shrink and falter, by their cordial efforts to raise him to that high station, for which so many patriotic citizens, in various parts of the country, are now holding him up as a candidate; and they will do this on the full conviction, that he will always be true to those principles, wherever his country may call him.
To this address, Mr. Webster replied as follows: —
Mr. Chairman And Gentlemen: I accept, with grateful respect, the present which it is your pleasure to make. I value it. It bears an expression of your regard for those political principles which I have endeavored to maintain; and though the material were less costly, or the workmanship less elegant, any durable evidence of your approbation could not but give me high satisfaction.
This approbation is the more gratifying, as it is not bestowed for services connected with local questions, or local interests, or which are supposed to have been peculiarly beneficial to yourselves, but for efforts which had the interests of the whole country for their object, and which were useful, if useful at all, to all who live under the blessings of the Constitution and Government of the United States.
It is twelve or thirteen years, Gentlemen, since I was honored with a seat in Congress, by the choice of the citizens of Boston. They saw fit to repeat that choice more than once; and I embrace, with pleasure, this opportunity of expressing to them my sincere and profound sense of obligation for these manifestations of confidence. At a later period, the Legislature of the State saw fit to transfer me to another place; and have again renewed that trust, under circumstances, which I have felt to impose on me new obligations of duty, and an increased devotion to the political welfare of the country. These twelve or tliirteen years, Gentlemen, have been years of labor, and not without sacrifices; but both have been more than compcnsated by the kindness, the good will, and the favorable interpretation with which my discharge of official duties has been received. In this changing world, we can hardly say that we possess what a present, and the future is all unknown. But the past is ours. Its acquisitions, and its enjoyments, are safe. And among these acquisitions, among the treasures of the past most to be cherished and preserved, I shall ever reckon the proofs of esteem and confidence, which I have received from the citizens of Boston and the Legislature of Massachusetts.
In one respect, Gentlemen, your present oppresses me. It overcomes me, by its tone of commendation. It assigns to me a character, of which I feel 1 am not worthy. "The Defender of the Constitution" is a title quite too high for me. He who shall prove himself the ablest, among the able men of the country; he who shall serve it longest, among those who may serve it long; he on whose labors all the stars of benignant fortune shall shed their selectest influence, — will have praise enough, and reward enough, if, at the end of his political and earthly career, though that career may have been as bright as the track of the sun across the sky, the marble under which he sleeps, and that much better record, the grateful breasts of his living countrymen, shall pronounce him " the Defender of the Constitution." It is enough for me, Gentlemen, to be connected, in the most humble manner, with the defence and maintenance of this great wonder of modern times, and this certain wonder of all future times. It is enough for me to stand in the ranks, and only to be counted as one of its defenders.
The Constitution of the United States, I am confident, will protect the name and the memory, both of its founders and of its friends, even of its humblest friends. It will impart to both something of its own ever memorable and enduring distinction; I had almost said, something of its own everlasting remembrance. Centuries hence, when the vicissitudes of human aiJairs shall have broken it, if ever they shall break it, into fragments, these very fragments, every shattered column, every displaced foundation-stone, shall yet be sure to bring them all into recollection, and attract to them the respect and gratitude of mankind.
Gentlemen, it is to pay respect to this Constitution, it is to mani