Page images

artisan, and labourer, in every city in the country, -—I would say to every man, everywhere, who wishes, by honest means, to gain an honest living, “Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing! Whoever attempts, under whatever popular cry, to shake the stability of the public currency, bring on distress in money matters, and drive the country into paper money, stabs your inter. est, and your happiness to the heart.” The herd of hungry wolves who live on other men's earnings will rejoice in such a state of things. A system which absorbs into their pockets the fruits of other men's industry is the very system for them. A government that produces or countenances uncertainty, fluctuations, violent risings and fallings in prices, and, finally, paper money, is a government exactly after their own heart. Hence these men are always for change. They will never let well enough alone. A condition of public affairs in which property is safe, industry certain of its reward, and every man secure in his own hard-earned gains, is no paradiso for them. Give them just the reverse of this state of things; bring on change, and change after change; let it not be known to-day what will be the value of property to-morrow ; let no man be able to say whether the money in his pockets at night will be money or worthless rags in the morning; and depress labour till double work shall earn but half a living,-give them this state of things, and you give them the consummation of their earthly bliss. Sir, the great interest of this country, the producing cause of all its prosperity, is labour! labour! labour! We are a labouring community. A vast majority of us all live by industry and actual occupation in some of their forms. The Constitution was made to protect this industry, to give it both encouragement and security; but, above all, security. To that very end. and with that precise object in view, power was given to Congress over the currency, and over the money system of the country. In forty years’ experience, we have found nothing at all adequate to the beneficial execution of this trust but a well-conducted national bank. That has been tried, returned to, tried again, and always found successful. If it be not the proper thing for us, let it be soberly argued against; let something better be proposed; let the country examine the matter coolly, and decide for itself. But whoever shall attempt to carry a question of this kind by clamour and violence and prejudice; whoever would rouse the people by appeals, false and fraudulent appeals, to their love of independence, to resist the establishment of a useful institution, because it is a bank, and deals in money, and who artfully urges these appeals wherever he thinks there is more of honest feeling than of enlightened judg.

ment,-means nothing but deception. And whoever has the wickedness to conceive, and the hardihood to avow, a purpose to break down what has been found, in forty years' experience, essential to the protection of all interests, by arraying one class against another, and by acting on such a principle as that the poor always hate the rich, shows himself the reckless enemy of all. An enemy to his whole country, to all classes, and to every man in it, he deserves to be marked especially as the poor man's curses


MR. PRESIDENT: The gentleman from South Carolina has admonished us to be mindful of the opinions of those who shall come after us. We must take our chance, Sir, as to the light in which posterity will regard us. I do not decline its judgment, nor withhold myself from its scrutiny. Feeling that I am performing my public duty with singleness of heart and to the best of my ability, I fearlessly trust myself to the country, now and hereafter, and leave both my motives and my character to its decision.

The gentleman has terminated his speech in a tone of threat and defiance towards this bill, even should it become a law of the land, altogether unusual in the halls of Congress. But I shall not suffer myself to be excited into warmth by his denunciation of the measure which I support. Among the feelings which at this moment fill my breast, not the least is that of regret at the position in which the gentleman has placed himself. Sir, he does himself no justice. The cause which he has espoused finds no basis in the Constitution, no succour from

3 This short piece and the one next following are from a speech in the Sen. ate, February 16, 1833. The proper title of the speech is, “The Constitution not a Compact between Sovereign States.” In November, 1832, the people of South Carolina had met, by their delegates, in convention, and settled the principles of resistance to the National government. Pursuant to an ordinance adopted by that body, the legislature of the State had, afterwards, passed laws organizing such resistance, especially in the matter of the tariff. President Jackson, whatever errors of policy he had fallen into touching other questions, was just the man for that business; and his motto then was, “The UNION,-it must be preserved.” He called upon Congress for such further legislation as would enable him to meet the exigency. In response to this call, a bill was introduced, “further to provide for the Collection of Duties on Imports,” commonly called “the Force Bill.” Calhoun opposed the bill in one of his ablest speeches, bringing his whole armament of nullification philosophy to bear against it. Webster's speech was in reply to Calhoun, and in support of the bill.

public sympathy, no cheering from a patriotic community. He has no foothold on which to stand while he might display the powers of his acknowledged talents. Every thing beneath his feet is hollow and treacherous. He is like a strong man struggling in a morass: every effort to extricate himself only sinks him deeper and deeper. And I fear the resemblance may be carried still further; I fear that no friend can safely come to his relief, that no one can approach near enough to hold out a helping hand, without danger of going down himself, also, into the bottomless depths of this Serbonian bog. The honourable gentleman has declared that on the decision of the question now in debate may depend the cause of liberty itself. I am of the same opinion ; but then, Sir, the liberty which I think is staked on the contest is not political liberty, in any general and undefined character, but our own wellunderstood and long-enjoyed American liberty.

Sir, I love Liberty no less ardently than the gentleman himself, in whatever form she may have appeared in the progress of human history. As exhibited in the master States of antiquity, as breaking out again from amidst the darkness of the Middle Ages, and beaming on the formation of new communities in modern Europe, she has, always and everywhere, charms for me. Yet, Sir, it is our own liberty, guarded by constitutions and secured by union, it is that liberty which is our paternal inheritance, it is our established, dear-bought, peculiar American liberty, to which I am chiefly devoted, and the cause of which I now mean, to the utmost of my power, to maintain and defend.


SIR, those who espouse the doctrines of nullification reject, as it seems to me, the first great principle of all republican liberty; that is, that the majority must govern. In matters of common concern, the judgment of a majority must stand as the judgment of the whole. This is a law imposed on us by the absolute necessity of the case ; and if we do not act upon it, there is no possibility of maintaining any government but despotism. We hear loud and repeated denunciations against what is called majority government. It is declared, with much warmth, that a majority government cannot be maintained in the United States. What, then, do gentlemen wish? Do they wish to establish a minority government? Do they wish to subject the will of the many to the will of the few o' The hon

ourable gentleman from South Carolina has spoken of absolute majorities and majorities concurrent; language wholly unknown to our Constitution, and to which it is not easy to affix definite ideas. As far as I understand it, it would teach us that the absolute majority may be found in Congress, but the majority concurrent must be looked for in the States; that is to say, Sir, stripping the matter of this novelty of phrase, that the dissent of one or more States, as States, renders void the decision of a majority of Congress, so far as that State is concerned. And so this doctrine, running but a short career, like other dogmas of the day, terminates in nullification. If this vehement invective against majoritics meant no more than that, in the construction of government, it is wise to provide checks and balances, so that there should be various limitations on the power of the mere majority, it would only mean what the Constitution of the United States has already abundantly provided. It is full of such checks and balances. In its very organization, it adopts a broad and most effectual principle in restraint of the power of mere majorities. A majority of the people elects the House of representatives, but it does not elect the Senate. The Senate is elected by the States, each State having, in this respect, an equal power. No law, therefore, can pass, without the assent of a majority of the representatives of the people, and a majority of the representatives of the States also. A majority of the representatives of the people and a majority of the States must concur, in every Act of Congress; and the President is elected on a plan compounded of both these principles. Dut, having composed one House of representatives chosen by the people in each State, according to its numbers, and the other, of an equal number of members from every State, whether larger or smaller, the Constitution gives to majorities in these Houses, thus constituted, the full and entire power of passing laws, subject always to the constitutional restrictions, and to the approval of the President. To subject them to any other power is clear usurpation. The majority of one IHouse may be controlled by the majority of the other; and both may be restrained by the President's negative. These are checks and balances provided by the Constitution, existing in the government itself, and wisely intended to secure deliberation and caution in legislative proceedings. But to resist the will of the majority in both Houses, thus constitutionally exercised ; to insist on the lawfulness of interposition by an extraneous power; to claim the right of defeating the will of Congress, by setting up against it the will of a single State,—is neither more nor less, as it strikes me, than a plain attempt to overthrow the

government. The constituted authorities of the United States are no longer a government, if they be not masters of their own will ; they are no longer a government, if an external power may arrest their proceedings; they are no longer a government, if Acts passed by both Houses, and approved by the President, may be nullified by State vetoes or State ordinances. Does any one suppose it could make any difference, as to the binding authority of an Act of Congress, and of the duty of a State to respect it, whether it passed by a mere majority of both Houses, or by three fourths of each, or the unanimous vote of each? Within the limits and restrictions of the Constitution, the government of the United States, like all other popular governments, acts by majorities. It can act no otherwise. Whoever, therefore, denounces the government of majorities, denounces the government of his own country, and denounces all free governments. And whoever would restrain these majorities, while acting within their constitutional limits, by an external power, whatever he may intend, asserts principles which, if adopted, can lead to nothing else than the destruction of the government itself. Does not the gentleman perceive, Sir, how his argument against majorities might here be retorted upon him? Does he not see how cogently he might be asked, whether it be the

character of nullification to practise what it preaches? Look to

South Carolina, at the present moment. How far are the rights of minorities there respected ? I confess, Sir, I have not known, in peaceable times, the power of the majority carried with a higher hand, or upheld with more relentless disregard of the rights, feelings, and principles of the minority; —a minority embracing, as the gentleman himself will admit, a large portion of the worth and respectability of the State; a minority comprehending in its numbers men who have been associated with him, and with us, in these halls of legislation; men who have served their country at home and honoured it abroad; men who would cheerfully lay down their lives for their native State, in any cause which they could regard as the cause of honour and duty; men above fear, and above reproach ; whose deepest grief and distress spring from the conviction, that the present proceedings of the State must ultimately reflect discredit upon her. How is this minority, how are these men, regarded? They are enthralled and disfranchised by ordinances and Acts of legislation ; subjected to tests and oaths incompatible, as they conscientiously think, with oaths already taken, and obligations already assumed : they are proscribed and denounced, as recreants to duty and patriotism, and slaves to a foreign power. Both the spirit which pursues them, and the

« PreviousContinue »