« PreviousContinue »
behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honoured throughout the Earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured; bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory, as “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion and folly, “Liberty first, and Union afterwards”; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart,-Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable l
BLESSINGS OF THE CONSTITUTION."
GENTLEMEN, as connected with the Constitution, you have local recollections which must bind it still closer to your attachment and affection. It commenced its being and its blessings here. It was in this city, in the midst of friends, anxious hopeful, and devoted, that the new government started in its course. To us, who are younger, it has come down by tradition; but some around me are old enough to have witnessed, and did witness, the interesting scene of the first inauguration. They remember what voices of gratified patriotism, what shouts of enthusiastic hope, what acclamations rent the air, how many eyes were suffused with tears of joy, how cordially each man pressed the hand of him who was next to him, when, standing in the open air, in the centre of the city, in the view of assembled thousands, the first President was heard solemnly to pronounce the words of his official oath, repeating them from the lips of Chancellor Livingston. You then thought, Gentlemen, that the great work of the Revolution was accomplished. You then felt that you had a government; that the United States were then, indeed, united. Every benignant star seemed to shed its selectest influence on that auspicious hour. Here were heroes of the Revolution ; here were sages of the Convention; here were minds, disciplined and schooled in all the various fortunes of the country, acting now in several relations, but all coöperating to the same great end, the successful administration of the new and untried Constitution. And he,—how shall I speak of him 2–he was at the head, who was already first in war, who was already first in the hearts of his countrymen, and who was now shown also, by the unanimous suffrage of the country, to be first in peace. Gentlemen, how gloriously have the hopes then indulged been fulfilled ! Whose expectation was then so sanguine, I may almost ask whose imagination then so extravagant, as to run forward, and contemplate as probable the one half of what has been accomplished in forty years ? Who among you can go back to 1789, and see what this city, and this country too, then were ; and, beholding what they now are, can be ready to consent that the Constitution of the United States shall be weakened,—dishonoured,— mullified ? The legislative history of the first two or three years of the government is full of instruction. It presents, in striking light, the evils intended to be remedied by the Constitution, and the provisions which were deemed essential to the remedy of those evils. It exhibits the country, in the moment of its change from a weak and ill-defined confederacy of States into a general, efficient, but still restrained and limited government. It shows the first working of our peculiar system, moved, as it then was, by master hands. Gentlemen, for one, I confess I like to dwell on this part of our history. It is good for us to be here. It is good for us to study the situation of the country at this period, to survey its difficulties, to look at the conduct of its public men, to see how they struggled with obstacles, real and formidable, and how gloriously they brought the country out of its state of depression and distress. Truly, Gentlemen, these founders and fathers of the Constitution were great men, and thoroughly furnished for every good work. All that reading and learning could do ; all that talent and intelligence could do; and, what perhaps is still more, all that long experience in difficult and troubled times, and a deep and intimate practical knowledge of the condition of the country, could do, conspired to fit them for the great business of forming a general, but limited government, embracing common objects, extending over all the States, and yet touching the power of the States no further than those common objects require. I confess I love to linger around these original fountains, and to drink deep of their waters. I love to imbibe, in as full measure as I may, the spirit of those who laid the foundations of the government, and so wisely and skilfully balanced and adjusted its bearings and proportions. 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 2 What has given us this just pride? What else is it, but the unrestrained and free operation of that same Fed. eral 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 ; who have eyes to see, ard have not read of; 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 countrirs 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 union; that they themselves had destroyed their chief good and their chief honour; — 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 foothold on our soil, his person will be 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 have 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 gov. ernment 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. It is a striking fact, and as true as it is striking, that at this very moment, among all the principal civilized States of the world, that government is most secure against the danger of popular commotion, which is itself entirely popular. Certain it is, that, in these times of so much popular knowledge and so much popular activity, those governments which do not admit the people to partake in their administration, but keep them under and beneath, sit on materials for an explosion, which may take place at any moment, and blow them into a thousand atoms. Gentlemen, let any man who would degrade and enfeeble the national Constitution, let any man who would nullify its laws, stand forth and tell us what he would wish. What does he propose 2 Whatever he may be, and whatever substitute he may hold forth, I am sure the people of this country will decline his kind interference, and hold on by the Constitution which they possess. Any one who would willingly destroy it, I rejoice to know, would be looked upon with abhorrence. It 1s deeply entrenched in the regards of the people. Doubtless it may be undermined by artful and long-continued hostility; it may be imperceptibly weakened by secret attack; it may be insidiously shorn of its powers by slow degrees; the public vigilance may be lulled, and when it awakes it may find the Constitution frittered away. In these modes, or some of them, it is possible that the union of the States may be dissolved. But if the general attention of the people be kept alive, if they see the intended mischief before it is effected, they will prevent it by their own sovereign power. They will interpose themselves between the meditated blow and the object of their regard and attachment. Next to the controlling authority of the people themselves, the preservation of the government is mainly committed to those who administer it. If conducted in wisdom, it cannot but stand strong. Its genuine, original spirit is a patriotic, liberal, and generous spirit; a spirit of conciliation, of moderation, of candour, and charity; a spirit of friendship, and not a spirit of hostility toward the States; a spirit careful not to exceed, and equally careful not to relinquish, its just powers. While no interest can or ought to feel itself shut out from the benefits of the Constitution, none should consider those benefits as exclusively its own. The interests of all must be consulted, and reconciled, and provided for, as far as possible, that all may perceive the benefits of a united government. Among other things, we are to remember that new States have arisen, possessing already an immense population, spreading and thickening over vast regions which were a wilderness when the Constitution was adopted. Those States are not, like New York, directly connected with maritime commerce. They are entirely agricultural, and need markets for consumption ; and they need, too, access to those markets. It is the duty of the government to bring the interests of these new States into the Union, and incorporate them closely in the family compact. Gentlemen, it is not impracticable to reconcile these various interests, and so to administer the government as to make it useful to all. It was never easier to administer the government than it is now. We are beset with none, or with few, of its original difficulties; and it is a time of great general prosperity and happiness. Shall we admit ourselves incompetent to carry on the government, so as to be satisfactory to the whole country? Shall we admit that there has so little descended to us of the wisdom and prudence of our fathers? If the government could be administered in Washington's time, when it was yet new, when the country was heavily in debt, when foreign relations were threatening, and when Indian wars pressed on the frontiers, can it not be administered now? Úet us not acknowledge ourselves so unequal to our duties. Gentlemen, on the occasion referred to by the Chair, it became necessary to consider the judicial power, and its proper functions under the Constitution. In every free and balanced
7. This very noble strain of discourse is from a speech made on the following occasion. In February, 1831, a year aster the delivery of the great speech in reply to Hayne, some leading gentlemen of New York invited Webster to a public dinncr; as a mark of honour for his powerful championship of the Union. The dinner took place in the City Hotel on the 10th of March. Chancellor Kent presided; and, on introducing Webster to the assembly, he referred, in strong and cloquent terms, to the great Senator's recent work in Congress, and closed with the following: “Socrates was said to have drawn down philosophy from the skics, and scattered it among the schools. It may with equal truth be said that constitutional law, by means of those senatorial discussions and the master genius that guided them, was rescued from the archives of our tribunals and the libraries of our lawyers, and placed under the eye, and submitted to the judg. ment, of the American people. Their verdict is with us, and from it there lies no