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In the Senate of the United States, on the twenty-sixth of January, 1830, following Mr. Hayne in the debate, Mr. Webster spoke as follows:*—
Mr. PRESIDENT,-When the mariner has been tossed for many days, in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course. Let us imitate this prudence, and, before we float farther on the waves of this debate, refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we now are. I ask for the reading of the resolution. The Secretary read the resolution, as follows: “Resolved, That the Committee on Public Lands be instructed to inquire and report the quantity of public lands remaining unsold within each State and Territory, and whether it be expedient to limit, for a certain period, the sales of the public lands to such lands only as have heretofore been offered for sale, and are now subject to entry at the minimum price. And, also, whether the office of surveyor-general, and some of the land offices, may not be abolished without detriment to the public interest; or whether it be expedient to adopt measures to hasten the sales, and extend more rapidly the surveys of the public lands.” We have thus heard, sir, what the resolution is, which is actually before us for consideration; and it will readily occur to every one that it is almost the only subject about which something has not been said in the speech, running through two days, by which the Senate has been now entertained by the gentleman from South Carolina. Every topic in the wide range of our public affairs, whether past or present—every thing, general or local, whether belonging to national polities, or party politics, seems to have attracted more or less of the honorable member's attention, save only the resolution before the Senate: He has spoken of every thing but the public lands. They have escaped his notice. To that subject, in all his excursions, he has not paid even the cold respect of a passing glance. * , When this debate, sir, was to be resumed on Thursday morning, it so happened that it would have been convenient for me to be elsewhere. The honorable member, however, did not incline to put off the discussion to another day. He had a shot, he said, to return, and he wished to discharge it. That shot, sir, which it was kind thus to inform us was coming, that we
* See the Speech of Mr. Hayne, in the subsequent pages of this volume,
might stand out of the way, or prepare ourselves to fall before it, and die with decency, has now been received. Under all advantages, and with expectation awakened by the tone which preceded it, it has been discharged, and has spent its force. It may become me to say no more of its effect, than that, if nobody is found, after all, either killed or wounded by it, it is not the first time, in the history of human affairs, that the vigor and success of the war have not quite come up to the lofty and sounding phrase of the manifesto. The gentleman, sir, in declining to postpone the debate, told the Senate, with the emphasis of his hand upon his heart, that there was something rankling here, which he wished to relieve. [Mr. HAYNE rose, and disclaimed having used the word rankling.] It would not, Mr. President, be safe for the honorable member to appeal to those around him upon the question, whether he did, in fact, make use of that wordBut he may have been unconscious of it. At any rate, it is enough that he disclaims it. But still, with or without the use of that particular word, he had yet something here, he said, of which he wished to rid himself by an immediate reply. In this respect, sir, I have a great advantage over the honorable gentlemanThere is nothing here, sir, which gives me the slightest uneasiness; neither fear, nor anger, nor that which is sometimes more troublesome than either—the consciousness of having been in the wrong. There is nothing, either originating here, or now received here by the gentleman's shot. Nothing original, for I had not the slightest feeling of disrespect or unkindness towards the honorable member. Some passages, it is true, had occurred since our acquaintance in this body, which I could have wished might have been otherwise; but I had used philosophy and forgotten them. When the honorable member rose, in his first speech, I paid him the respect of attentive listening; and when he sat down, though surprised, and, I must say, even astonished, at some of his opinions, nothing was farther from my intention than to commence any personal warfare: and through the whole of the few remarks I made in answer, I avoided, studiously and carefully, every thing which I thought possible to be construed into disrepectAnd, sir, while there is thus nothing originating here, which I wished at any time, or now wish to discharge, I must repeat, also, that nothing has been received here which rankles, or in any way gives me annoyance. I will not accuse the honorable member of violating the rules of civilized war, I will not say that he poisoned his arrows. But whether his shafts were, or were not, dipped in that which would have caused rankling, if they had reached, there was not, as it happened, quite strength enough in the bow to bring them to their mark. he wishes now to gather up those shafts, he must look for them elsewhere; they will not be found fixed and quivering in the object at which they were aimed. The honorable member complained that I had slept on his speech. I must have slept on it, or not slept at all. The moment the honorable member sat down, his friend from Missouri rose, and, with much honeyed commendation of the speech, suggested that the impressions which it had produced were too charming and delightful to be disturbed by other sentiments or other sounds, and proposed that the Senate should adjourn. Would it have been quite amiable in me, sir, to interrupt this excellent good feeling? Must I not have been absolutely malicious, if I could have thrust myself forward to destroy sensations, thus pleasing 2 Was it not much better and kinder, both to sleep upon them myself, and to allow others also the pleasure of sleeping upon them? But if it be meant, by sleeping upon his speech, that I took time to prepare a reply to it, it is quite a mistake; owing to other engagements, I could not employ even the interval between the adjournment of the Senate and its meeting the next morning, in attention to the subject of this debate. Nevertheless, sir, the mere matter of fact is undoubtedly true—I did sleep on the gentleman's speech; and slept soundly. And Islept equally well on his speech of yesterday, to which I am now replying. It is quite possible that in this respect, also, I possess some advantage over the ioloradio member, attributable, doubtless, to a cooler temperament on my part; for, in truth, I slept upon his speeches remarkably well. But the gentleman inquires why he was made the object of such a reply & Why was he singled out? If an attack has been made on the east, he, he assures us, did not begin it—it was the gentleman from Missouri. Sir, I answered the gentleman's speech because I happened to hear it: and because, also, I chose to give an answer to that speech which, if unanswered, I thought most likely to produce injurious impressions. I did not stop to inquire who was the original drawer of the bill. I found a responsible endorser before me, and it was my purpose to hold him liable, and to bring him to his just responsibility without delay. But, sir, this interrogatory of the honorable member was only introductory to another. He proceeded to ask me whether I had turned upon him, in this debate, from the consciousness that I should find an overmatch, if I ventured on a contest with his friend from Missouri. If, sir, the honorable member, er gratia modestia, had chosen thus to defer to his friend, and to pay him a compliment, without intentional disparagement to others, it would have been quite according to the friendly courtesies of debate, and not at all ungrateful to my own feelings. I am not one of those, sir, who esteem any tribute of regard, whether light and occasional, or more serious and deliberate, which may be bestowed on others, as so much unjustly withholden from
themselves. But the tone and manner of the gentleman's question forbid me that I thus interpret it. I am not at liberty to consider it as nothing more than a civility to his friend. It had an air of taunt and disparagement, something of the loftiness of asserted superiority, which does not allow me to pass over it without notice. It was put as a question for me to answer, and so put, as if it were difficult for me to answer, Whether I deemed the member from Missouri an overmsteh for myself in debate here. It seems to me, sir, that this is extraordinary language, and an extraordinary tone, for the discussions of this body. Matches and overmatches | Those terms are more applicable elsewhere than here, and fitter for other assemblies than this.-Sir, the gentleman seems to forget where and what we are. This is a Senate; a Senate of equals: of men of individual honor and personal character, and of absolute independence. We know no masters: we acknowledge no dictators. This is a hall for mutual consultation and discussion ; not an arena for the exhibition of champions. I offer myself, sir, as a match for no man; I throw the challenge of debate at no man’s feet. But then, sir, since the honorable member has put the question in a manner that calls for an answer, I will give him an answer; and I tell him that, holding myself to be the humblest of the members here, I yet know nothing in the arm of his friend from Missouri, either alone, or when aided by the arm of his friend from South Carolina, that need deter even me from espousing whatever opinions I may choose to espouse, from debating whenever I may choose to debate, or from speaking whatever I may see fit to say, on the floor of the Senate. Sir, when uttered as matter of commendation or compliment, I should dissent from nothing which the honorable member might say of his friend. Still less do I put forth any pretensions of my own. But, when put to me as matter of taunt, I throw it back, and say to the gentleman that he could possibly say nothing less likely than such a comparison to wound my pride of personal character. The anger of its tone rescued the remark from intentional irony, which otherwise probably would have been its general acceptation. But, sir, if it be imagined that by this mutual quotation and commendation; if it be supposed that, by casting the characters of the drama, assigning to each his part; to one the attack, to another the cry of onset; or if it be thought that by a loud and empty vaunt of anticipated victory any laurels are to be won here; if it be imagined, especially, that any or all these things will shake any purpose of mine, I can tell the honorable member, once for all, that he is greatly mistaken, and that he is dealing with one of whose temper and character he has yet much to learn. Sir, I shall not allow myself on this occasion, I hope on no occasion, to be betrayed into any loss of temper; but if provoked, as I trust I never shall be, into crimination and recrimination, the honorable member may perhaps find that, in that contest, there will be blows to take as well as blows to give; that others can state comparisons as significant, at least, as his own; and that his impunity may possibly demand of him whatever powers of taunt and sarcasm he may possess. I commend him to a prudent husbandry of his reSources. But, sir, the coalition 1 The coalition! Ay, “the murdered coalition | " The gentleman asks, if I were led or frightened into this debate by the spectre+of the coalition—“Was it the ghost of the murdered coalition,” he exclaims, “which haunted the member from Massachusetts; and which, like the ghost of Banquo, would never down?” “The murdered coalition : " Sir, this charge of a coalition, in reference to the late administration, is not original with the honorable member. It did not spring up in the Senate. Whether as a fact, as an argument, or as an embellishment, it is all borrowed. He adopts it, indeed, from a very low origin, and a still lower present condition. It is one of the thousand calumnies with which the ress teemed during an excited political canvass. t was a charge of which there was not only no proof or probability, but which was, in itself, wholly impossible to be true. No man of common information ever believed a syllable of it. Yet it was of that class of falsehoods, which, by continued repetition, through all the organs of detraction and abuse, are capable of misleading those who are already far misled, and of further fanning passion, already kindling into flame. Doubtless it served in its day, and in greater or less degree, the end designed by it. Having done that it has sunk into the general mass of stale and loathed calumnies. It is the very cast off slough of a polluted and shameless press. Incapable of further mischief, it lies in the sewer, lifeless and despised. It is not now, sir, in the power of the honorable member to give it dignity or decency, by attempting to elevate it, and to introduce it into the Senate. He cannot change it from what it is, an object of general disgust and scorn. On the contrary, the contact, if he choose to touch it, is more likely to drag him down, down, to the place where it lies itself. But, sir, the honorable member was not, for other reasons, entirely happy in his allusion to the story of Banquo's murder, and Banquo's ghost. It was not, I think, the friends, but the enemies of the murdered Banquo, at whose bidding his spirit would not down. The honorable gentlemen is fresh in his reading of the English classics, and can put me right if I am wrong; but, according to my poor recollection it was at those who had begun with caresses, and ended with foul and treacherous murder, that the gory locks were shaken! The ghost of Banquo, like that of Hamlet, was an honest ghost. It disturbed no innocent man. It knew where its appearance would strike terror, and who would cry out, a ghost! . It made itself visible in the right quarter, and compelled the
their eyeballs were seared (was it not so, sir?) who had thought to shield themselves, by concealing their own hand, and laying the imputation of the crime on a low and hireling agency in wickedness; who had vainly attempted to stifle the workings of their own coward consciences, by ejaculating, through white lips and chattering teeth, “Thou canst not say I did it!” I have misread the great poet if those who had no way partaken in the deed of the death, either found that they were, or feared that they should be, pushed from their stools by the ghost of the slain, or exclaimed, to a spectre created by their own fears, and their own remorse, “Avauntl and quit our sight!” There is another particular, sir, in which the
honorable member's quick perception of resemblances might, I should think, have seen something in the story of Banquo, making it not altogether a subject of the most pleasant contemplation. Those who murdered Banquo, what did they win by it?—Substantial good? Permanent power? Or disappointment, rather, and sore mortification;–dust and ashes—the common fate of vaulting ambition, overleaping itself? Did not evenhanded justice ere long commend the poisoned chalice to their own lips? Did they not soon find that for another they had “filed their mind?” that their ambition, though apparently for the moment successful, had but put a barren sceptre in their grasp?— Ay, sir,
“A barren sceptre in their gripe,
Thence to be wrenched by an unlineal hand,
No son of their's succeeding.”
Sir, I need pursue the allusion no farther. I leave the honorable gentleman to run it out at his leisure, and to derive from it all the gratification it is calculated to administer. If he finds himself pleased with the associations, and prepared to be quite satisfied, though the parallel should be entirely completed, I had almost said, I am satisfied also-but that I shall think of Yes, sir, I will think of that.
In the course of my observations the other day, Mr. President, I paid a passing tribute of respect to a very worthy man, Mr. Dane of Massachusetts. It so happened that he drew the ordinance of 1787, for the government of the northwestern territory. A man of so much ability, and so little pretence; of so great a capacity to do good, and so unmixed a disposition to do it for its own sake; a gentleman who had acted an important part forty years ago, in a measure the influence of which is still deeply felt in the very matter which was the subject of debate, might, I thought, receive from me a commendatory recognition. .
But the honorable member was inclined to be facetious on the subject. He was rather dis
ed to make it matter of ridicule that I had introduced into the debate the name of one Nathan Dane, of whom he assures us he had never before heard. Sir, if the honorable member had never before heard of Mr. Dane, I am sorry for it. It shows him less acquainted with the public men of the country, than I had supposed. Let me tell him, however, that a sneer from him, at the mention of the name of Mr. Dane, is in bad taste. It may well be a high mark of ambition, sir, either with the honorable gentleman or myself, to accomplish as much to make our names known to advantage, and remembered with gratitude, as Mr. Dane has accomplished. But the truth is, sir, I suspect, that Mr. Dane lives a little too far north. He is of Massachusetts, and too near the north star to be reached by the honorable gentleman's telescope. If his sphere had happened to range south of Mason and Dixon's line, he might, probably, have come within the scope of his visions I spoke, sir, of the ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery in all future times, northwest of the Ohio, as a measure of great wisdom and foresight; and one which had been attended with highly beneficial and permanent consequences. I supposed that on this point no two gentlemen in the Senate could entertain different opinions. But the simple expression of this sentiment has led the gentleman not only into a labored defence of slavery, in the abstract, and on principle, but, also, into a warm accusation against me, as having attacked the system of domestic slavery now existing in the southern states. For all this there was not the slightest foundation in any thing said or intimated by me. I did not utter a single word which any ingenuity could torture into an attack on the slavery of the south. I said only that it was highly wise and useful in legislating for the northwestern country, while it was yet a wilderness, to prohibit the introduction of slaves; and added, that I presumed, in the neighboring State of Kentucky, there was no reflecting and intelligent gentleman, who would doubt, that if the same prohibition had been extended at the same early period over that commonwealth, her strength and population would, at this day, have been far greater than they are. If these opinions be thought doubtful, they are, nevertheless, I trust, neither extraordinary nor disrespectful. They attack nobody and menace nobody. And yet, sir, the gentleman's optics have discovered, even in the mere expression of this sentiment, what he calls the very spirit of the Missouri question! He represents me as making an onset on the whole south, and manifesting a spirit which would interfere with, and disturb, their domestic condition! Sir, this injustice no otherwise surprises me, than as it is committed here, and committed without the slightest pretence of ground for it. I say it only surprises me as being done here; for I know full well that it is, and has been, the settled policy of some persons in the south, for years, to represent the people of the north as dispos
ed to interfere with them in their own exclusive and peculiar concerns. This is a delicate and sensitive point in southern feeling: and of late years it has always been touched, and generally with effect, whenever the object has been to unite the whole south against northern men or northern measures. This feeling, always carefully kept alive, and maintained at too intense a heat to admit discrimination or reflection, is a lever of great power in our political machine. It moves vast bodies, and gives to them one and the same direction. But it is without all adequate cause ; and the suspicion which exists wholly groundless. There is not, and never has been, a disposition in the north to interfere with these interests of the south. Such interference has never been supposed to be within the power of government; nor has it been in any way attempted. The slavery of the south has always been regarded as a matter of domestic policy, left with the States themselves, and with which the federal government had nothing to do. Certainly, sir, I am, and ever have been of that opinion. The gentleman, indeed, argues that slavery, in the abstract, is no evil. Most assuredly I need not say I differ with him, altogether and most widely, on that point. I regard domestic slavery as one of the greatest of evils, both moral and political. But though it be a malady, and whether it be curable, and if so, by what means; or, on the other hand, whether it be the “vulnus immedicabile” of the social system, I leave it to those whose right and duty it is to inquire and to decide. And this I believe, sir, is, and uniformly has been, the sentiment of the north. Let us look a little at the history of this matter. When the present constitution was submitted for the ratification of the people, there were those who imagined that the powers of the government which it proposed to establish, might, perhaps, in some possible mode, be exerted in measures tending to the abolition of slavery. This suggestion would of course attract much attention in the southern conventions. In that of Virginia, Governor Randolph said: “I hope there is none here, who, considering the subject in the calm light of philosophy, will make an objection dishonorable to Virginia– that at the moment they are securing the rights of their citizens, an objection is started, that there is a spark of hope that those unfortunate men now held in bondage, may, by the operation of the general government, be made free.” At the very first Congress, petitions on the subject were presented, if I mistake not, from different States. The Pennsylvania society for promoting the abolition of slavery took a lead, and laid before Congress a memorial, praying Congress to promote the abolition by such powers as it possessed. This memorial was referred, in the House of Representatives, to a select committee, consisting of Mr. Foster, of New Hampshire, Mr. Gerry, of Massachusetts, Mr. Huntington, of Connecticut, Mr. Lawrence, of New York, Mr. Sinnickson, of New Jersey, Mr. Hartley of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Parker, of Virginia, all of them, sir, as you will observe, northern men, but the last. This committee made a report, which was committed to a committee of the whole House, and there considered and discussed on several days; and being amended, although without material alteration, it was made to express three distinct propositions, on the subject of slavery and the slave trade. First, in the words of the constitution; that Congress could not, prior to the year 1808, prohibit the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States then existing should think proper to admit. Second, that Congress had authority to restrain the citizens of the United States from carrying on the African slave trade, for the purpose of supplying foreign countries. On this proposition, our early laws against those who engage in that traffic are founded. The third proposition, and that which bears on the present question, was expressed in the following terms: “I’esolved, That Congress have no authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them in any of the States ; it remaining with the several States alone to provide rules and regulations therein, which humanity and true policy may require.” This resolution received the sanction of the House of Representatives so early as March, 1790. And now, sir, the honorable member will allow me to remind him, that not only were the select committee who reported the resolution, with a single exception, all northern men, but also that of the members then composing the House of Representatives, a large majority, I believe nearly two-thirds, were northern men also. The House agreed to insert these resolutions in its journal ; and from that day to this, it has never been maintained or contended, that Congress had any authority to regulate, or interfere with, the condition of slaves in the several States. No northern gentleman, to my knowledge, has moved any such question in either House of Congress. The fears of the south, whatever fears they might have entertained, were allayed and quieted by this early decision; and so remained, till they were excited afresh, without cause, but for collateral and indirect purposes. When it became necessary, or was thought so, by some political persons, to find an unvarying ground for the exclusion of northern men from confidence and from lead in the affairs of the republic, then, and not till then, the cry was raised, and the feeling industriously excited, that the influence of northern men in the public councils would endanger the relation of master and slave. For myself. I claim no other merit, than that this gross and enormous injustice towards the whole north, has not wrought upon me to change my opinions, or my political conduct. I hope I am above violating my principles, even under the smart of injury and false imputations.
Unjust suspicions and undeserved reproach, whatever pain I may experience from them, will not induce me, I trust, nevertheless, to overstep the limits of constitutional duty, or to encroach on the rights of others. The domestic slavery of the south I leave where I find it—in the hands of their own governments. It is their affair, not mine. Nor do I complain of the peculiar effect which the magnitude of that population has had in the distribution of power under this federal government. We know, sir, that the representation of the States in the other House is not equal. We know that great advantage in that respect, is enjoyed by the slave-holding States; and we know, too, that the intended equivalent for that advantage, that is to say, the imposition of direct taxes in the same ratio, has become merely nominal; the habit of the government being almost invariably to collect its revenue from other sources and in other modes. Nevertheless, I do not complain: nor would I countenance any movement to alter this arrangement of representation. It is the original bargain, the compact—let it stand; let the advantage of it be fully enjoyed. The Union itself is too full of benefit to be hazarded in propositions for changing its original basis. I go for the constitution as it is, and for the Union as it is. But I am resolved not to submit, in silence, to accusations, either against myself, individually, or against the north, wholly unfounded and unjust; accusations which impute to us a disposition to evade the constitutional compact, and to extend the power of the government over theinternal laws and domestic condition of the States. All such accusations, wherever and whenever made, all insinuations of the existence of any such purposes, I know, and feel to be groundless and injurious. And we must confide in southern gentlemen themselves; we must trust to those whose integrity of heart and magnanimity of feeling will lead them to a desire to maintain and disseminate truth, and who posses the means of its diffusion with the southern public; we must leave it to them to disabuse that public of its prejudices. But, in the mean time, for my own part, I shall continue to act justly, whether those towards whom justice is exercised receive it with candor or with contumely.
Having had occasion to recur to the ordinance of 1787, in order to defend myself against the inferences which the honorable member has chosen to draw from my former observations on that subject, I am not willing now entirely to take leave of it without another remark. It need hardly be said, that that paper expresses just sentiments on the great subject of civil and religious liberty. Such sentiments were common, and abound in all our State papers of that day. But this ordinance did that which was not so common, and which is not, even now, universal; that is, it set forth and declared, as a high and binding duty of government itself, to encourage schools, and advance the means of education ; on the plain reason,