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DELIVERED IN THE CAPITOL SQUARE DURING THE WHIG CONVENTION AT RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, OCTOBER 5, 1840
Virginians: The wisdom of our fathers has established for us a Constitution of government which enables me to appear here to-day, and to address you as my fellow-citizens; and half a century of experience has shown how useful to our common interest, how conducive to our common renown and glory, is that Constitution by which we have been united. I desire to pay due honor to those illustrious men who made us — the children of those who fell at Bunker Hill and Yorktown — members of the same political family, tied together by the same common destiny, and awaiting the same common prosperity, or common adversity, in all time to come. It is the extraordinary nature of the times, united with a long-cherished desire to visit Virginia, which has occasioned me the pleasure I enjoy of being in the midst of you all to-day. I have come more for the purpose of seeing and hearing you than of speaking to you myself. [ have come to mingle myself among you; to listen to the words of your wise and patriotic men; that I may improve my own patriotic feeling by communication with the chivalrous spirits of this Ancient Dominion. But, inasmuch as there are, or may be, some questions of national policy, or of constitutional power, on which you and I differ, there are some amiable persons who are so very considerate of your reputation, and of my reputation, as to signify that they esteem it a great breach of propriety that you should invite me to come here, or that I should accept your invitation. Let us hope that these amiable persons will allay their fears.
If there be any question or questions on which you and I differ in opinion, those questions are not to be the topics of discussion to-day. No! We are not quite soft enough for that. While in the presence of a common enemy, who is armed to the teeth against us both, and putting forth as many hands as Briareus to destroy what we think it most important to preserve, does he imagine that, at such a moment, we shall be carrying on our family controversies? — that we are going to give ourselves those blows which are due to him? No! Regarding him as the enemy of our country, we mean to pursue him till we bring him to capitulation Vol. m. 67 sa* s s
or to flight; and when tee have done that, if there are any differences of opinion among us, we will try to settle them ourselves, without his advice or assistance; and we will settle them in a spirit of conciliation and mutual kindness. If we do differ in any of our views, we must settle that difference, not in a spirit of exasperation, but with moderation — with forbearance — in a spirit of amity and brotherhood.
It is an era in my life to find myself on the soil of Virginia addressing such an assemblage as is now before me: I feel it to be such: I deeply feel the responsibility of the part which has this day been thrown upon me. But, although it is the first time I have addressed an assembly of my fellow-citizens upon the soil of Virginia, 1 hope I am not altogether unacquainted with the history, character, and sentiments of this venerable State. The topics which now are agitating the country, and which have brought us all here to-day, have no relation whatever with those in which I differ from the opinions she has ever entertained. The grievances and the misgovemmeni which have roused the country, pertain to that class of subjects which especially and peculiarly belong to Virginia, and have from the very beginning of our history. I know something of the community amidst which I stand — its distinguished and ardent attachment to civil liberty, and its habit for political disquisition. I know that the landholders of Virginia are competent, from their education and their leisure, to discuss political questions in their elements, and to look at Government in its tendencies, as well as in the measures it may at present pursue. There is a sleepless suspicion, a vigilant jealousy of power, especially of Executive power, which for three quarters of a century has marked the character of the people of the Old Dominion ; and if I have any right conception of the evils of the time, or of the true objection to the measures of the present Administration, it is, that they are of such a kind as to expose them, in an especial manner, to that sleepless jealousy, that stern republican scrutiny, that acute and astute inspection, which have distinguished the present as they have all preceding generations of men in this ancient Commonwealth. Allowing this to be so, let me present to you my own view of the present aspect of our public affairs.
In my opinion, a decisive majority of all the reople of the United States has been, for several years past, opposed to the policy of tl»e existing Administration. I shall assume this in what I have further to say, because I believe it to be true; and I believe that events are on the wing, and will soon take place, which will proclaim the truth of that position, and will show a vote of three fourths of the votes of the electoral colleges in favor of a Change or Men. Taking this, for the present, as the true state of political feeling and opinion, I next call your attention to the fact of the very extraordinary excitement, agitation, and 1 had almost said commotion, which marks the present moment throughout every part of the land. Why are these vast assemblages every where congregated? Why, for example, am I here, five hundred miles from my own place of residence, to address such an assembly of Virginians on political subjects? And why does every day, in every State, witness something of a similar kind? Has this ever been the case before? Certainly not in our time, and once only in the time of our fathers. There are some present here who witnessed, and there are others who have learned from the lips of their parents, the state of feeling which existed in 1774 and 1775, before the resort to arms was had to effect the objects of the Revolution. I speak now of the time when Patrick Henry, standing, as we now do, in the open air, was addressing the Virginians of that day, while, at the same moment, James Otis and his associates were making the same rousing appeal to the People of Massachusetts. From that time to this there has been nothing in any degree resembling what we now behold. This general earnestness, this universal concern of all men in relation to public affairs, is now witnessed for the first time since the Revolution. Do not men abandon their fields in the midst of seed-time — do they not leave their various occupations, as you have now done — to attend to matters which they deem more important? And is it not so through all classes of our citizens all over the whole land? Now, the important question I wish to put is this, — and 1 put it as a question fit for the mind of the statesmen of Virginia, — 1 propose it, with all respect, to the deep deliberation and reflection of every patriotic man throughout the country ; — it is this: If it be true that a majority of the People of the United States has, for some years, been opposed in sentiment to the policy of the present Administration, Why Is It Necessary that these extraordinary efforts should be put forth to turn that Administration out of power, and to put better men in their places? We inhabit a free country ; — every office of public trust is in our own hands, at the disposal of the People's own suffrages; all public concerns are controlled and managed by them, at their own pleasure; and the trust has always been to the ballotbox, as an effectual means to keep the Government at all times in conformity with the public will. How, then, has it happened that, with all this, such extraordinary efforts have been necessary to put out a particular Administration? Why has it not been done by the silent power of the elective franchise? Why has not the Government been changed both in its policy and in the men who administer it? I desire, from the free, the thinking men of Virginia, an answer to that question. When the elections are every where showing that a large majority of the People is opposed in sentiment to the existing Administration, I desire them to tell me how that Administration has held its place and pursued its own peculiar system of measures so long?
My answer to my own question is this: In my judgment, it has come to be true, in the actual working of our system of Government, that the Executive power has increased its influence and its patronage to such a degree that it may counteract the will of a majority of the People, and continue to do so until that majority has not only become very large, but till it has united in its objects and in its candidate, and, by a strenuous effort, is enabled to tum the Administration out of power. I believe that the patronage of the Executive in our Government has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. I believe that it does enable the incumbents to resist the public will, until the country is roused to a high and simultaneous effort, and the imperative mandate of the public voice dismisses the unfaithful servants from their places. The citadel of the Administration can only be carried by general storm.
Now, I ask, can it be supposed that this Government can go on long in a course of successful operation, if no change can be produced without such an effort as that in which the People of this country are now engaged? I put it to the old-fashioned Republicans of Virginia. I ask them, whether it can be supposed that this 'free Republican Government of ours can last for half a century longer, if its Administration cannot be changed without such an excitement,— I may say such a civil revolution, — as is now in progress, and, I trust, is near its completion?
I present this case as the greatest and strongest of all proofs that Executive power in this country has increased, and is dangerous to liberty.
If this be so, then I ask, What are the causes which have given and have augmented this force of Executive power? The disciples of the ancient school of Virginia long entertained the opinion that there was great danger of encroachment by the General Government on the just rights of the States; but they were also alarmed at the possibility of an undue augmentation of the Executive power. It becomes us, at a crisis like the present, to recur to first principles — to go back to our early history, and to see how the question actually stands.
You all well know that, in the formation of a Constitution for the government of this country, the great difficulty its Trainers encountered was with regard to the Executive power. It was easy to establish a House of Representatives, and a second branch of the Government in the form of a Senate, for it was a very obvious thing to say that the States should be represented in one House of Congress as the People were represented in the other. But the great and perplexing question was, how to limit and regulate the Executive power in such a manner, that, while it should be sufficiently strong and effective for the purposes of Government, it should not be able to endanger civil liberty. Our fathers had seen and felt the inconvenience, during the Revolutionary War, of a weak Executive in Government. The country had suffered much from that cause. There was not any unity of purpose or efficiency of action in its Executive power. As the country had just emerged from one war, and might be plunged into another, they were looking intently to such a Constitution as should secure an efficient Executive. Perhaps it remains to be seen whether, in this respect, they had not better have given less power to this brand), and taken all the inconvenience arising from the want of it, rather than to hazard the granting of so much as might prove dangerous not only to the other departments of Government, but to the safety and freedom of the country at large.
Because, in the first place, it is the Executive which confers all the favors of a Government. It has the patronage in its hands, and if we look at the augmentation of patronage which has taken place in this country, we shall see that in the course of things, and to answer the purposes of men, this patronage has greatly increased. We shall find the expenditures for office have been augmented. We shall find that this is true of the Civil and Diplomatic Departments — we shall find it is true of all the Departments; of the PostOffice, and especially of the Commercial Department. Thus, to take an instance from one of our great commercial cities: In the custom-house at New York, the number of officers has, in twelve years, increased threefold, and the whole expense, of course, in the same proportion.
Then there is the power of removal—a power which, in some instances, has been exercised most remorselessly. By whatever party it is wielded, unless it be called for by the actual exigencies of the public service, Virginia, more than any State of the Union, has ever rejected, disowned, disavowed, the practice of removal for opinion's sake. I do honor to Virginia in this respect. That power has been far less practised in Virginia than in certain States where the Spoils' doctrine is known to be more popular. But this
Eower of removal, sanctioned as it is by time, does exist, and I ave seen it exercised, in every part of the country where public opinion tolerated it, with a most unsparing hand.
I will now say, however, that which I admit to be very presumptuous, because it is said notwithstanding the illustrious authority of one of the greatest of your great men — a man better acquainted with the Constitution of the United States than any other man — a man who saw it in its cradle — who held it in his arms, as one may say, in its infancy — who presented and recommended it to the American people, and who saw it adopted very much under the force of his own reasoning and the weight of his own reputation — who lived long enough to see it prosperous, to enjoy its highest honors — and who at last went down to the grave among ten thousand blessings, for which, morning and evening, he had thanked God ; —