The legislature, however, on meeting in November of the same year, elected him a member of the council of the State; and in the winter of 1779 he was chosen by the assembly a delegate to congress. He took his seat in March, 1780, and remained in that body for three years. He strongly opposed the issue of paper money by the States, and was in favor of a formal recommendation on the part of congress against the continuance of the system. As chairman of the committee to prepare instructions to the ministers at Versailles and Madrid, in support of the claims of the confederacy to western territory and the free navigation of the Mississippi, he drew an elaborate and able paper which was unanimously adopted by congress. He zealously advocated in 1783 the measure proposed to establish a system of general revenue to pay the expenses of the war, and as chairman of the committee to which the matter was referred, prepared an able address to the State in support of the plan, which was adopted by congress and received the warm approval of Washington.
The people of Virginia now began to realize the value of his services; a striking proof of which is exhibited by the fact that the law rendering him inelligible after three years' service in Congress was repealed, in order that he might sit during the fourth. On his return to Virginia he was elected to the Legislature, and took his seat during 1784. In this body he inaugurated the measures relating to a thorough revision of the old statutes, and supported the bills introduced by the revisors, Jefferson, Wyth, and Pendleton, on the subject of entails, primogeniture (exclusive heirship belonging to the first born) and religious freedom.
He aided in the separation of Kentucky from Virginia, and the formation of the new State, opposed the further issue of paper money, and favored the payment of debts due British creditors. His greatest service at this time was his preparation, after the close of the assembly, of a "Memorial and Remonstrance" against the project of a general assessment for the support of religion, which caused the utter defeat of the measure, against which it was directed. In January, 1786, he obtained the passage of a bill by the General Assembly inviting the other States to appoint commissioners to meet at Annapolis and devise a new system of commercial regulations. He was chosen one of the commissioners, and attended at Annapolis in September of the same year. Five States only were represented, and the commissioners recommended a convention of delegates from all the States to meet at Philadelphia, in May, 1787. The recommendation was generally adopted and, of course, Madison was chosen one of the delegates from Virginia.
The convention assembled and the result was the abrogation of the old articles and the formation of the Constitution of the United States. Madison was prominent in advocating the Constitution and took a leading part in the debates, of which he kept private notes, since published by order of congress. His views of a federal government are set forth at length in a paper still extant in the hand-writing of Washington, which contains the substance of a letter written to Washington by Madison before the meeting of the convention, proposing a scheme of thorough centralization. The writer declares that he is equally opposed to 'the individual independence of the States,' and to 'the consolidation of the whole into one simple republic.'
He is nevertheless in favor to invest in congress the power to exercise 'a negative in all cases whatever on the legislative acts of the States, as heretofore exercised by the kingly prerogative.' He says further 'that the right of coercion should be expressly declared; but the difficulty and awkwardness of operating by force on the collective will of a State, render it particularly desirable that the necessity of it should be precluded.' From these extreme views Madison conscientiously departed, but in the convention he supported them with zeal and vigor.
The scheme known as the 'Virginia Plan' was adopted instead, and the convention adjourned. The subsequent adoption of the Constitution was in a large measure due to a series of essays, now familiar in their collected form as "The Federalist." They were commenced in a New York newspaper soon after the adjournment of the Convention, and continued to appear until June, 1788. The public journals everywhere republished them, and it was soon known that they were the work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay. The volume remains the forcible exposition upon the side which it espoused. The whole ground is surveyed, generally and in detail; the various points at issue are discussed with the utmost acuteness, and the advantages of the adoption of the instrument urged with logical force and eloquence which place "The Federalist" beside the most famous political writings of the old English worthies.
The Virginia convention, of which Madison was a member, assembled in June. He had completely overcome his natural diffidence and, although deficient as an orator, exerted a powerful influence over his associates, contributing as much to the final triumph of the constitution as any one in the body. The instrument was adopted by a vote of eighty-nine to seventy-nine and the convention closed. The part which he had taken in its deliberations very greatly increased Madison's reputation; and he was brought forward as a candidate for United States Senator but was defeated. He was, however, chosen a member of congress and took his seat in that body in 1789.
Alexander Hamilton was at the head of the treasury department and Madison was obliged either to support the great series of financial measures initiated by the secretary, or distinctly abandon his former associate and range himself on the side of the republican opposition. He adopted the latter course. Although he had warmly espoused the adoption of the constitution, he was now convinced of the necessity of a strict construction of the powers which it conferred upon the general government. He accordingly opposed the funding bill, the national bank, and Hamilton's system of finance generally.
His affection for Washington, and long friendship for Hamilton, rendered such a step peculiarly disagreeable to a man of Madison's amiable and kindly disposition, but the tone of his opposition did not alienate his friends. Occupying, as he did, the middle ground between the violent partisans on both sides he labored to reconcile the antagonism of the two parties, and always retained the same cordial regard for Washington.
On Jefferson's return from France, Madison was solicited to accept the mission and it was kept open for twelve months awaiting his decision. He declined the place, as he afterwards did the position of Secretary of State on the retirement of Jefferson, from a firm conviction that the radical antagonism of views between himself and a majority of the members of the cabinet would render his acceptance of either office fruitful in misunderstandings and collisions.
He remained in congress, becoming thoroughly identified with the Republicans, and soon became the avowed leader in congress. In 1794 he gave his full support to its foreign policy by moving a series of resolutions, based upon the report of Jefferson, advocating a retaliatory policy toward Great Britain, and commercial discriminations in favor of France. These resolutions he supported in a speech of great ability. In March, 1797, his term expired, and he returned to Virginia.
The insulting treatment of the American envoys to France and the war message of President Adams were about to be followed by the passage of the alien and sedition laws. The Republicans vainly tried to stem the popular current in favor of the measures of the administration. The passing of the alien and sedition laws in July, 1798, gave them the first opportunity to make a stand. Opposition to even these violent measures was however ineffectual in the Federal legislature; and the Republican leaders determined to resort to the State arenas for the decisive struggle.
It commenced in Kentucky, and resulted there in the adoption of a series of resolutions, which were followed, in December, 1798, by similar resolves of the Virginia Assembly. The latter, now known as "the resolutions of 1798-'9," were drawn up by James Madison, not then a member. They declared the determination of the Assembly to defend the Constitution of the United States, but to resist all attempts to enlarge the authority of the federal compact by forced constructions of general clauses, as tending to consolidation, the destruction of the liberties of the States, and finally to a monarchy.
In case of a "deliberate, palpable, and dangerous" exercise of powers not clearly granted to the General Government, the States had a right to interpose; and as the passing of the alien and sedition laws was such an infraction of right, the assembly protested against those laws. The seventh resolution called upon the other States to join with the State of Virginia 'in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid are unconstitutional, and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each for co-operating with this State in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights and liberties reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.'
The resolutions passed the House by a vote of 100 to 63, and were duly communicated to the several States of the Union. They met with little favor, especially in the Northern States. Massachusetts and New England generally remonstrated against them, and declared the obnoxious laws both constitutional and expedient. This drew forth, in the winter of 1799-1800, Madison's "Report" in defence of his resolutions. This elaborate paper subjected the resolves to an exhaustive analysis and defended them with masterly vigor. It is the most famous of his political writings and will rank with the greatest state papers written in America.
Although the resolutions met with an unfavorable reception throughout the States, they exerted a powerful influence on public opinion. Virginia had shown how deeply in earnest she was by directing the establishment of two arsenals, and an armory sufficiently large to store 10,000 muskets and other arms; but a wholesome change in the sentiment of the country happily restored good feeling and softened down all bitterness.
The alien and sedition laws found few supporters ultimately, and Madison's views were fully vindicated. The revulsion against the Federal party and in favor of the Republicans, terminated in the election of Jefferson, who entered upon the presidency in 1801. Madison was Secretary of State during Jefferson's entire administration, and his opinions on public affairs closely agreed with those of the President.
He became still more popular with, and acceptable to, his party and toward the close of Jefferson's second term was generally spoken of as his successor. A caucus of the majority of the Republican members of Congress was finally held, and Madison was nominated. This met with bitter opposition from a wing of the party, headed by John Randolph, who were friendly to the nomination of Monroe. They published a caustic 'Protest' against the action of the caucus and denounced Madison for his 'want of energy,' his connection with the 'Federalist,' and his report upon the Yazoo claims.
His friends defended him against all charges and retorted so strongly upon the authors of the "Protest" that they were silenced. The action of the caucus was generally approved by the party, and Madison was elected by a vote of 123 out of 175, and took his seat as president, March 4, 1809.
President Madison entered upon his duties at a crisis in public affairs which required the utmost foresight, resolution and prudence. Great Britain and the United States were on the verge of war. In 1807 the long series of wrongs inflicted by England upon the commerce of America, and the rights of her seaman, had been consummated by the affair of the Leopard and Chesapeake. This wanton insult had thrown the country into violent commotion, and occasioned the embargo act, which had been succeeded by the non-intercourse act, prohibiting all commerce with France and England, until the decrees of the French emperor and the British orders in council in relation to the seizure of neutrals and the impressment of seamen were repealed.
The first of the British cabinet did not encourage peace. Mr. Erskine, the English minister, in promising reparation for the affair of the Chesapeake, and a repeal of the obnoxious orders in council, on condition of a renewal of intercourse on the part of the United States, was declared to have exceeded his authority, and was recalled. He was succeeded by Mr. Jackson who was authorized to enter into a commercial treaty, but speedily became embroiled with the Secretary of State. The president directed the secretary to have no further communication with him, and soon afterward requested his recall. This was complied with, but no censure was visited upon the envoy, and no other was sent in his place.
In May, 1810, congress approved the course of the executive, declared the official communications of Mr. Jackson highly indecorous and insolent, and passed a new act of non-intercourse. This provided that if either France or England repealed her hostile decree, and the other did not within three months do likewise, then intercourse should be resumed with the one, while with the other non-intercourse should be persisted in.
In August the French minister for Foreign Affairs gave notice to the American minister that the Berlin and Milan decrees had been revoked by the Emperor; and in November Madison issued a proclamation declaring the fact, and announcing that the act of non-intercourse would be revived as to Great Britain unless her orders in council should be revoked within three months from the date of the proclamation.
The British government resisted this demand, on the ground that there was no official evidence of the repeal of the French decrees, and the act of non-intercourse was accordingly declared in full force against Great Britain. In March, 1811, the Emperor Napoleon disavowed the statement of the Duke of Cadore, and declared that "the decrees of Berlin and Milan were the fundamental laws of the empire." American vessels had been seized and held by France even after the president's proclamation, and every overture on the part of the American minister at Paris toward the re-establishment of friendly relations between the two countries was viewed with indifference and utterly failed. The country was slowly but surely drifting toward a war, which no exertions on the part of the administration seemed adequate to prevent.
Madison pushed his pacific views to an extent that proved displeasing to many of the most prominent men of the Republican party. Bills were passed for augmenting the army, repairing and equipping ships of war, organizing and arming the militia, and placing the country in an attitude to resist an enemy; for all which congress appropriated $1,000,000.
Madison acquiesced in this policy with extreme reluctance, but on June 1, 1812, transmitted a special message to congress in which he reviewed the whole controversy, and spoke in strong terms of the aggressions of Great Britain upon commercial rights. The act declaring war between Great Britain and America speedily followed. The president gave it his approval on June 18, and promptly issued his proclamation calling upon the people to prepare for the struggle, and to support the government.
A short delay would probably have defeated the policy of the war party, and re-opened the old negotiations. A decree of the French emperor had been exhibited to the United States minister to France, dated April 28, 1811, which declared the definite revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees, from and after November 1, 1810. In consequence of this, Great Britain, on June 23, within five days after the declaration of war, repealed the obnoxious orders in council in relation to the rights of neutrals, and thus removed one of the main grounds of complaint on the part of the American government.
On June 26, before the course of the British Cabinet was known in America, Mr. Monroe, Secretary of State, wrote to Mr. Russell proposing the terms of armistice. These were a repeal of the orders in council, with no illegal blockades substituted, and a discontinuance of the impressment of seamen. In the latter part of August, Mr. Russell, our representative at London, received from the English Government a definite refusal to accede to these propositions, as 'on various grounds absolutely inadmissible,' he therefore returned to the United States.
In September Admiral Warren arrived at Halifax. In addition to his naval command, he was invested with powers to negotiate a provisional accommodation with the United States. A correspondence on the subject ensued between himself and Mr. Monroe, as the representatives of the two countries. The admiral proposed an immediate cessation of hostilities, with a view to the peaceful arrangement of the points at issue.
Monroe replied that his government was willing to accede to this proposition, provided Warren was authorized and disposed to negotiate terms for suspending in the future the impressment of American seamen. The British Government refused to relinquish the claim to this right and nothing remained but war.
On March 4, 1813, Madison entered upon his second term of service. He had received 128 electoral votes; his opponent DeWitt Clinton, 89 votes. The congressional elections had resulted in a large majority in favor of the administration, and the war policy seemed to be acceptable to a large majority of the people, though a strong party was opposed to it, and endeavored to obstruct the measures necessary to the vigorous prosecution of hostilities. The war commenced in earnest with the appearance, in 1813, of a British fleet in Chesapeake Bay, and in March the whole coast of the United States, with the exception of Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, was declared in a state of blockade. The long series of engagements on land and water during the war which followed, find their proper place in the general history of our country.
In March, 1813, soon after the commencement of hostilities, the Russian minister to the United States communicated to the American government a proposal from the Emperor Alexander to mediate between the belligerents. The proposition was accepted, and the president appointed commissioners to go to St. Petersburg to negotiate under the mediation of the emperor. Great Britain declined the Russian mediation in September; but in November the American government was informed that that power was prepared to negotiate the terms of a treaty of peace.
Steps were at once taken to meet this proposal. Mr. Clay and Mr. Russell were added to the commission previously appointed, and in January, 1814, joined their associates in Europe. In August of the same year the country was deeply aroused by the attack on the capitol. A British force of 5,000 men ascended the Chesapeake, landed on the shores of the Patuxent, and marched on Washington. The few troops hastily collected were wholly unable to offer any effective resistance and retired before the enemy, who proceeded to the city, burned the capitol, the president's house, and other public buildings, and returned without loss to their ships. The president and several members of his cabinet were in the American camp, but were compelled to abandon the city in order to avoid capture.
The enemy gained little by their movement, and the wanton outrage only increased the bitterness of the people. Among the public occurrences of the year 1814, the meeting of the Hartford convention, in opposition to the continuance of the war, occupies a prominent place. The victory at New Orleans, however, and the intelligence of the conclusion of the treaty of peace, terminated the popular indignation. A treaty of peace had been signed by the United States commissioners at Ghent, on December 4, 1814, and being communicated by the president to the senate, was ratified by that body in February, 1815.
It was silent on the paramount question of impressment, and left the commercial regulations between the two countries for subsequent negotiation. But the country was tired of the war, and the treaty was hailed with acclamation. In this general joy no one person joined more heartily than did Madison. He had acquiesced reluctantly to the commencement of hostilities, and had longed for peace since the beginning. The country came out of a war, which cost her 30,000 lives and $1,000,000, stronger and more honored than before; thoroughly convinced of her own power and resources, and regarded with increased respect by all the nations of the world.
In 1815 a commercial treaty was concluded with Great Britain based upon a policy of perfect reciprocity. The subjects of impressment and blockades were not embraced in it. The return of peace disbanded the organized opposition to the administration, and the remainder of Madison's term was undisturbed by exciting events.
In April, 1816, congress incorporated a national bank with a capital of $35,000,000, to continue for twenty years. The president had vetoed a similar bill in January of the preceding year, but now approved of it, from a conviction that the derangement of the currency made it necessary. It encountered strong opposition, but was supported by Henry Clay and other friends of the president, and passed both houses.
In December, 1816, Madison sent in his last annual message to congress. Its recommendations were considered judicious and liberal, and secured the general approbation of the country.
On March 4, 1817, his long official relations with the country terminated, and he retired to his farm at Montpelier, Virginia. In this pleasant retreat he passed the remainder of his days in agricultural pursuits. Like most of our famous men, his matrimonial connection was a source of great advantage to him. During his later years, in spite of his ill-health, Madison still busied himself in service to his neighbors.
While at school, for MONTHS TOGETHER, he had slept but three hours out of the twenty-four. He was not an orator naturally; many others of his schoolmates, it is stated, were far superior to him in natural abilities. Why, then, did he succeed, while so many others failed? The strong feature whereby he won success was, like that of many others, his capacity for HARD WORK.
As to Madison's principles, it will be remembered that he was defeated in 1777, because he refused to treat the people to liquor. In 1829 he sat in the Virginia Convention to reform the old constitution. When he rose to utter a few words the members left their seats and crowded around the venerable figure dressed in black, with his thin gray hair powdered as in former times, to catch the low whisper of his voice. This was his last appearance in public.
If not endowed with the very first order of ability, Madison had trained his mind until it was symmetrical and vigorous. An unfailing accuracy and precision marked the operation of his faculties. He was naturally deficient in powers of oratory, and yet made himself one of the most effective speakers of his time, although the epoch was illustrated by such men in his own State as Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason and Edmund Pendleton, to say nothing of Jefferson and Monroe.
Jefferson's testimony on this point is strong: He says: "Mr. Madison came into the house in 1776, a new member, and young; which circumstances, concurring with his extreme modesty, prevented his venturing himself in debate before his removal to the council of state in November, 1777. Thence he went to Congress, then consisting of but few members. Trained in these successive schools, he acquired a habit of self-possession which placed at ready command the rich resources of his luminous mind, and of his extensive information, acquired by INTENSE application, which rendered him eventually the first of every assembly of which he afterward became a member."
"Never wandering from his subject into vain declamation, but pursuing it closely, in language pure, classical, and copious, always soothing the feelings of his adversaries by civilities and softness of expression. He steadily rose to the high station which he held in the great national convention of 1787. In that of Virginia which followed, he sustained the new constitution in all its parts, bearing off the palm against the logic of George Mason, and the burning eloquence of Mr. Henry. With these consummate powers was united a pure and spotless virtue which no calumny has ever attempted to sully."
From his earliest years he was an intense scholar. His memory was singularly tenacious, and what he clearly understood was ever afterward retained. He thus laid up that great store of learning which, in the conventions of 1787-8 especially proved so effective, and later made him president. After Washington, no public man of his time was more widely known or more highly loved and respected.
The public confidence in, and respect for his honesty and singleness of aim toward the good of the country ripened into an affectionate attachment. His bearing and address were characterized by simplicity and modesty. He resembled a quiet student, rather than the head of a great nation. He was a perfect gentleman.
At another time Jefferson said of him: "From three and thirty years' trial I can say conscientiously that I do not know IN THE WHOLE WORLD a man of purer integrity, more dispassionate, disinterested, and devoted to true republicanism; nor could I in the whole scope of America and Europe point out an abler head." What more could be said? O that we could have such a monument left to mark our memory.
The fifth president of the United States was a native of the grand Old Dominion, being born in Westmoreland county, Virginia, April 28, 1758. Like his predecessor, Madison, he was the son of a planter. Another strange incident:—Within sight of Blue Ridge in Virginia, lived three presidents of the United States, whose public career commenced in the revolutionary times and whose political faith was the same throughout a long series of years. These were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.
In early youthhood Monroe received a good education, but left school to join the army and soon after was commissioned a lieutenant. He took an active part in the campaign on the Hudson, and in the attack on Trenton, at the head of a small detachment, he captured one of the British batteries. On this occasion he received a ball in the shoulder, and was promoted to a captaincy. As aide-de-camp to Lord Sterling, with the rank of major, he served in the campaign of 1777 and 1778, and distinguished himself in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth.
Leaving the army, he returned to Virginia and commenced the study of law under Thomas Jefferson, then Governor of the State. When the British appeared soon afterward in the State, Monroe exerted himself to the utmost in organizing the militia of the lower counties; and when the enemy proceeded southward, Jefferson sent him as military commissioner to the army in South Carolina.
In 1782, he was elected to the assembly of Virginia from the county of King George, and was appointed by that body, although but twenty-three years of age, a member of the executive council. In 1783 he was chosen a delegate to congress for a period of three years, and took his seat on December 13th. Convinced that it was impossible to govern the people under the old articles of confederation, he advocated an extension of the powers of congress, and in 1785 moved to invest in that body power to regulate the trade between the States.
The resolution was referred to a committee of which he was chairman, and a report was made in favor of the measure. This led to the convention of Annapolis, and the subsequent adoption of the Federal Constitution. Monroe also exerted himself in devising a system for the settlement of the public lands, and was appointed a member of the committee to decide the boundary between Massachusetts and New York. He strongly opposed the relinquishment of the right to navigate the Mississippi river as demanded by Spain.
Once more we see the value of a proper and elevating marriage, as a feature in the success of our great men. In 1785 he married a daughter of Peter Kortright, a lady of refinement and culture. He, being inelligible for the next three years according to the laws, settled in Fredericksburg.
In 1787 he was re-elected to the general assembly, and in 1788 was chosen a delegate to the Virginia convention to decide upon the adoption of the Federal Constitution. He was one of the minority who opposed the instrument as submitted, being apprehensive that without amendment it would confer too much authority upon the general government. The course of the minority in Congress was approved by the great mass of the population of the Old Dominion, and Monroe was chosen United States Senator in 1790. In the Senate he became a strong representative of the anti-Federal party, and acted with it until his term expired in 1794.
In May of that year he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France, and was received in Paris with enthusiastic demonstrations of respect. His marked exhibition of sympathy with the French Republic displeased the administration. John Jay had been sent to negotiate a treaty with England, and the course pursued by Monroe was considered injudicious, as tending to throw serious obstacles in the way of the proposed negotiations. On the conclusion of the treaty his alleged failure to present it in its true character to the French government excited anew the displeasure of the cabinet; and in August, 1796, he was recalled under an informal censure.
On his return to America he published a 'View of the conduct of the Executive in the Foreign Affairs of the United States,' which widened the breach between him and the administration, but socially Monroe remained upon good terms with both Washington and Jay.
He was Governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802 and at the close of his term was appointed Envoy Extraordinary to the French government to negotiate, in conjunction with the resident minister, Mr. Livingston, for the purchase of Louisiana, or a right of depot for the United States on the Mississippi. Within a fortnight after his arrival in Paris the ministers secured, for $15,000,000, the entire territory of Orleans and district of Louisiana.
In the same year he was commissioned Minister Plenipotentiary to England, and endeavored to conclude a convention for the protection of neutral rights, and against the impressment of seamen. In the midst of these negotiations he was directed to proceed to Madrid as Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to adjust the difficulties between the United States and Spain, in relation to the boundaries of the new purchase of Louisiana. In this he failed, and in 1806 he was recalled to England to act with Mr. Pickney in further negotiation for the protection of neutral rights. On the last day of that year a treaty was concluded, but because of the omission of any provision against the impressment of seamen, and its doubtfulness in relation to other leading points the president sent it back for revisal. All efforts to attain this failed and Monroe returned to America.
The time was approaching for the election of a president, and a considerable body of the Republican party had brought Monroe forward as their candidate, but the preference of Jefferson for Madison was well known and of course had its influence. Monroe believed that the rejection of the treaty and the predilection expressed for his rival indicated hostility on the part of the retiring President, and a correspondence on the subject ensued.
Jefferson candidly explained his course and assured him that his preference was based solely upon solicitude for the success of the party, the great majority of which had declared in the favor of Madison. The misunderstanding ceased and Monroe withdrew from the canvass. In 1810 he was again elected to the general assembly of Virginia, and in 1811 once more Governor of the State.
In the same year he was appointed Secretary of State by President Madison, and after the capture of the capitol in 1814, he was appointed to take charge of the war department, being both Secretary of State and Secretary of War at once. He found the treasury exhausted and the national credit at the lowest ebb, but he set about the task of infusing order and efficiency into the departments under his charge, and proposed an increase of 40,000 men in the army by levying recruits throughout the whole country.
His attention was also directed to the defence of New Orleans, and finding the public credit completely prostrated, he pledged his private means as subsidary to the credit of the Government, and enabled the city to successfully oppose the forces of the enemy. He was the confidential adviser of President Madison in the measures for the re-establishment of the public credit of the country and the regulation of the foreign relations of the United States, and continued to serve as Secretary of State until the close of Madison's term in 1817.
In that year he succeeded to the Presidency himself, by an electoral vote of 183 out of 217, as the candidate of the party now generally known as Democratic.
His Cabinet was composed of some of the ablest men in the country in either party. Soon after his inauguration President Monroe made a tour through the Eastern and Middle States, during which he thoroughly inspected arsenals, naval depots, fortifications and garrisons; reviewed military companies, corrected public abuses, and studied the capabilities of the country with reference to future hostilities.
On this tour he wore the undress uniform of a continental officer. In every point of view this journey was a success. Party lines seemed about to disappear and the country to return to its long past state of union. The President was not backward in his assurances of a strong desire on his part that such should be the case. The course of the administration was in conformity to these assurances, and secured the support of an overwhelming majority of the people.
The great majority of the recommendations in the President's message were approved by large majorities. The tone of debate was far more moderate; few of the bitter speeches which had been the fashion in the past were uttered, and this period has passed into history as the "Era of good feeling." Among the important events of the first term of President Monroe was the consummation in 1818 of a treaty between the United States and Great Britain in relation to the Newfoundland fisheries—the interpretation of the terms of which we have of late heard so much; the restoration of slaves and other subjects; also the admission into the Union of the States of Mississippi, Illinois and Maine; in 1819 Spain ceded to the United States her possessions in East and West Florida with the adjacent islands.
In 1820 Monroe was re-elected almost unanimously, receiving 231 out of the 232 electoral votes. On August 10th, 1821, Missouri became one of the United States, after prolonged and exciting debates, resulting in the celebrated "Missouri Compromise," by which slavery was permitted in Missouri but prohibited FOREVER elsewhere north of parallel thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes. Other events of public importance during the second term of President Monroe were the recognition in 1822 of the independence of Mexico, and the provinces in South America, formerly under the dominion of Spain; and the promulgation in his message of December 2, 1823, of the policy of 'neither entangling ourselves in the broils of Europe, nor suffering the powers of the old world to interfere with the affairs of the new,' which has become so famous as the "Monroe Doctrine." On this occasion the president declared that any attempt on the part of foreign powers to extend their system to any part of this hemisphere would be regarded by the United States as dangerous to our peace and prosperity, and would certainly be opposed.
On March 4, 1825, Monroe retired from office and returned to his residence at Oak Hill in Virginia.
He was chosen a justice of the peace, and as such sat in the county court. In 1829 he became a member of the Virginia convention to revise the constitution, and was chosen to preside over the deliberations of that body but he was obliged, on account of ill-health, to resign his position in that body and return to his home.
Although Monroe had received $350,000 for his public services alone, he was greatly harrassed with creditors toward the latter part of his life. Toward the last he made his home with his son-in-law, Samuel L. Gouverneur of New York city, where he was originally buried, but in 1830 he was removed to Richmond with great pomp and re-interred in Holleywood Cemetery.
The subject of this sketch held the reins of government at an important time and administered it with prudence, discretion, and a single eye to the general welfare. He went further than any of his predecessors in developing the resources of the country. He encouraged the army, increased the navy, augmented the national defences, protected commerce, approved of the United States Bank, and infused vigor into every department of the public service.
His honesty, good faith, and simplicity were generally acknowledged, and disarmed the political rancor of the strongest opponents. Madison thought the country had never fully appreciated the robust understanding of Monroe. In person, Monroe was tall and well-formed, with light complexion and blue eyes. The expression of his countenance was an accurate index of his simplicity, benevolence, and integrity. The country never fully appreciated Monroe, partly on account of his never having gained distinction as an orator.
A man worthy of no small attention was Lewis Cass. Born at Exeter, New Hampshire, October 9th, 1782. He served in the war of 1812, rising to the rank of major in the army. He was a school-fellow with Daniel Webster, became a school teacher at Wilmington, Delaware, and walking from that place to Ohio, where his parents moved, began the practice of law in Zanesville in 1802.
In 1806 he married and soon after was elected to the legislature of Ohio. He performed a most conspicuous part in the Burr trial, favoring the law which caused the arrest of the supposed conspirator. He became a colonel in the war of 1812, being included in the surrender of General Hull, of Detroit, and was instrumental in bringing about that General's arrest on the charge of cowardice and treason. He was afterward exchanged and served as aid to General Harrison in the battle of the Thames. He was appointed military governor of Michigan in the autumn of 1813, having risen to the position of Brigadier General.
In 1815 he purchased for $12,000 the whole plat of Detroit, and the subsequent rise made him immensely rich. He became Secretary of War under Jackson in 1831. He next became minister to France in 1842. Three years after this he was elected United States senator from Michigan, and resigned in 1848 to become a candidate for the presidency, but a division in his party caused the election of Taylor. He was then re-elected to fill the vacancy caused by his resignation, and again re-elected in 1854 for a full term of six years. He supported measures favorable to the promotion of slavery notwithstanding the Michigan legislature had instructed him to vote otherwise. He favored Douglass' Kansas-Nebraska bill.
He warmly favored Buchanan's nomination and became his Secretary of State, but promptly resigned when the president refused to reinforce Fort Sumter; thus closing a career of over fifty years of almost continuous public service. He, however, gave his support from this time to the Union and lived to see that triumphant suppression of treason. He died on the 18th day of June, 1866. He was a man of pure integrity, great ability, a fine scholar and an effective public speaker. He was exceedingly generous in all worthy petitions which his great wealth enabled him to gratify unsparingly. He was also an author of some note.
JOHN C. CALHOUN.
The father of John C. Calhoun was born in Ireland; his mother was the daughter of an Irish Presbyterian, a lady of great worth. Most of our illustrious men owe their success to a noble mother, and so it was with Calhoun. He was early taught to read the Bible, and his parents sought to impress upon him their Calvinistic doctrines.
As a child he was grave and thoughtful, and at the age of thirteen he studied history so perseveringly as to impair his health. His father died about this time, and a glimpse of his loving disposition can be obtained from the fact that notwithstanding that he greatly desired an education, still he would not leave the farm until assured of the means of prosecuting his studies without impairing his mother's comfort. Consequently he had few of the advantages to which systematic schooling is conducive until late in youth. He, however, made a satisfactory arrangement with his family, who agreed to furnish him money for a course of seven years.
He had decided to study law, but declared that he preferred being a common planter to a half-educated lawyer. He soon entered Yale College, where he graduated with distinction. President Dwight is said to have remarked 'That young man has ability enough to be President of the United States and will become one yet.' Before returning home he spent eighteen months in the law-school at Litchfield, Connecticut. He also cultivated extempore speaking, and finally returned South to finish his studies.
Being admitted to the bar he began practice; in 1808 was elected to the Legislature, and in 1811 to Congress. The war party had gained complete control of the House, and a speaker was chosen by the Democratic party. Calhoun was placed on the Committee of Foreign Relations, and he framed the report that the time had come to choose between tame submission and bold resistance. Calhoun was chosen chairman of this committee, and was a staunch supporter of the administration throughout. The increasing financial distress led to the National Bank debates, in which he was a leading figure. The necessity of this institution being admitted, to Calhoun was intrusted entire management of the bill, and to him is due the passage of the charter of the bank.
He was a most efficient agent of internal improvements, carrying a bill through the House by a vote of 86 to 84, authorizing a million and a half to be paid by the United States bank and the income on seven millions more to be devoted to internal improvements. This bill passed the Senate twenty to fifteen, but was vetoed by the president, denying the authority of congress to appropriate money for any such purpose. He next became Secretary of War, under Monroe. He found the war department in a demoralized condition—bills to the amount of $50,000 outstanding. These Calhoun promptly settled and secured the passage of a bill reorganizing the staff of the army. President Monroe bringing before the cabinet the question of whether he should sign the Missouri Compromise, Calhoun gave it as his opinion that it was constitutional, supporting the view that it was the duty of the president to sign the bill.
He was very seriously thought of as Monroe's successor, the great State of Pennsylvania supporting him at first, but General Jackson's great military fame won for him the nomination, and Calhoun was almost unanimously selected for vice-president.
The tariff question was an all-absorbing issue, and on this question the Democrats divided—the northern wing being for protection, under the lead of Martin Van Buren; while the South was unanimous for free trade, led by Calhoun. A rupture between the president and Mr. Calhoun now arose; this and other causes led to Mr. Calhoun's distrust of the president, and the belief that he could not be depended upon to settle the tariff question; therefore he brought out his nullification doctrine.
This doctrine was founded on the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of 1798-9 which declared the constitution to be a compact, each State forming an integral part. It also declared that the government created by the compact was not made the final judge, each party having a right to ratify or annul that judgment as an individual State, that is, such laws as were deemed unconstitutional. This doctrine he prepared, and the paper was presented to the legislature where it became known as the South Carolina Exposition. The next we see of it is in the Senate of the United States, where the doctrine is brought forward by Mr. Hayne, which led to his world-famed debate with Mr. Webster.
Then followed the passage of the tariff bill and the nullification act, whereby South Carolina signified her determination to resist the laws; and the final compromise measure of Henry Clay which happily settled the difficulty at this time. Calhoun was now a senator and soon formed one of the powerful trio in opposition to president Jackson. He characterized Jackson's distribution of the surplus left by the United States bank as an attempt to seize onto the power of Congress and unite, in his own hands, the sword and purse.
He declared that he had placed himself with the minority to serve his gallant State, nor would he turn on his heel if thereby he could be placed at the head of the government. He thought that corruption had taken such a hold of it that any man who attempted reform would not be sustained. The American Anti-slavery Society having sent tracts denunciatory to slavery throughout the South, and as it was believed that such measures had a tendency to incite the slaves to insurrection, Calhoun brought in a bill subjecting to severe punishment any postmaster who should knowingly receive any such matter for distribution in any State which should pass a law prohibiting the circulation of such. The bill failed on a final vote, twenty-five to nineteen.
He maintained that Congress had no jurisdiction over the subject of slavery; that it was a recognized institution; that the inequality of the negro was manifest; that in slavery they held their true position and to change their condition was to place them wholly dependent upon the State for support. Calhoun, believed that the relations between the races was right, morally and politically, and demanded that the institution of slavery be protected.
The bill recommended by Jackson, to restrict the sale of public lands to actual settlers and that in limited quantities, drew from him a most fiery speech. He claimed that the measure was really in the interest of speculators who had loaded themselves with land, and whose interest now was to restrict the sale and thus enhance the price of their ill-gotten domain. He also claimed that people high in office had speculated largely, even some in near relation to the president.
This brought from Jackson a letter that he should either retract his words or bring the matter before Congress as an act of impeachment. The sole power of impeachment lies within the House of Representatives, and, while the senate had previously passed an act denouncing Jackson's methods, yet the House of Representatives was overwhelmingly in his favor, and he must have known that no impeachment could pass this body.
Jackson realized that such charges needed his attention. Calhoun read his letter before the senate pronouncing it a cowardly attempt to intimidate, and repeated his charges; stating that not only persons high in authority were implied in the charge, but the president's nephew, calling his name, was a large speculator.
During the administration of Van Buren came the great financial crash of our history; the aggregate of the failures in New York and New Orleans alone amounting to $150,000,00. All this trouble had been foretold by Calhoun.
Mr. Van Buren's plan of an independent treasury, which created a place for all the surplus to accumulate, met with Calhoun's approval, and he accordingly separated from Webster and Clay to act in support of what was right, notwithstanding his personal feelings toward Van Buren. This illustrates the principle of Mr. Calhoun. Notwithstanding his known idea of right and wrong, this aroused the indignation of his late allies, who could ill spare his vote and powerful influence. The fact that this measure, which he had determined to support, is still in existence, proves conclusively the wisdom of Calhoun as against both Webster and Clay.
Yet, in reply to Calhoun's speech on the Independent Treasury bill, Clay used the strongest language, charging him with desertion, and making his whole life the subject of one of those powerful invectives so characteristic with him. Calhoun answered; Clay replied on the spot, and Calhoun answered back.
This was a wonderful example of the different styles of oratory of which each was master; Clay, of declamation, invective, wit, humor and bitter sarcasm; Calhoun of clear statement and close reasoning. This contest, aside from its oratorical power, deserves a place in history. In answer to Clay's attack on his life he replied: "I rest my public character upon it, and desire it to be read by all who will do me justice."
As a debater, where close reasoning was essential, he was an acknowledged leader. The tariff laws of Jackson's time which brought this nullification doctrine prominently before the country were acknowledged to be drawn in favor of the North, as against the South. The least that can be said is that he was honest; and that he was able to defend his doctrine no one disputes. Happily manufacturing interests are now investing in the South, and the tariff question will right itself.
Mr. Calhoun was brilliant and his great aim in life was the defense of slavery. He regarded that institution as essential to the very existence of the Southern States; therefore thought that the abolition of slavery would tend to the overthrow of the South. He declared that the Constitution should be revised.
Although never publicly proclaiming such a method, yet it seemed that his idea was to elect two Presidents, one from the slave and one from the free States, and that no bill of Congress could be ratified without their approval. But if Mr. Calhoun was honest in this, as he no doubt was, yet his measure would tend to take the power from the many and place it within the few, which is contrary to democratic ideas of good government.
It was on March 13th, 1850, that he fell exhausted at the close of his speech in answer to General Cass, and died soon after. Mr. Webster's funeral oration delivered in the Senate upon the announcement of his death is a most eloquent yet unexaggerated account of the virtues of John C. Calhoun.
"Calhoun was a part of his own intellectual character, which grew out of the qualities of his mind. It was plain, strong, wise, condensed, concise, still always severe. Rejecting ornament, not often seeking illustration; his power consisted in the plainness of his propositions, the clearness of his logic, and the earnestness and energy of his manner. No man was more respectful to others; no man carried himself with greater decorum; no man with superior dignity. I have not, in public or private life, known a man more assiduous in the discharge of his duties. Out of the Chambers of Congress he was either devoting himself to the acquisition of knowledge pertaining to the immediate subject of the duty before him, or else he was indulging in those social interviews in which he so much delighted.
"There was a charm in his conversation not often found. He had the basis, the indispensible basis of all high character; unspotted integrity and honor unimpeached. If he had aspirations they were high, honorable and noble; nothing low or meanly come near his head or heart. He arose early and was a successful planter; so much so that to have been an overseer at 'Fort Hill' was a high recommendation. He dealt almost exclusively in solid reasoning when speaking, which was so plain that illustration was rarely needed. Certain it is that he was a great and good man."
ROBERT Y. HAYNE.
The renowned debate on the doctrine of nullification in which he was one of the principals,—if it were the only act of his life, must make the name of Robert Y. Hayne forever illustrious. He was born in 1791, and admitted to the bar before he was twenty-one, having been educated in Charleston, South Carolina, his native State.
He volunteered early in the war of 1812 and rapidly rose to the position of Major-General, being considered one of the best disciplinarians in the South. As his old friend, Mr. Ehres, had been chosen to a seat in Congress, he succeeded to his large practice, and before he was twenty-two he had the most lucrative practice of any lawyer in his State.
He was elected to the South Carolina legislature as a member of the assembly of 1814, and as speaker of that body four years after taking his seat and soon was chosen Attorney General of the State. In every position young Haynes was placed he not only acquitted himself with credit but won for himself great esteem, and as soon as he was old enough to be elligible for United States Senator he was sent by his State to defend their interests at the national capitol.
Here he became a most aggressive opponent, culminating in "The battle of the giants," the great debate on the interpretation of the constitution. Mr. Hayne's speech on this occasion was heralded far and near, and it was classed by his supporters with the mightiest efforts of Burke or Pitt. Mr. Webster's reply has been generally acknowledged the superior effort of the two; but certain it is that whatever may have been the tendency of the views espoused by him, Robert Y. Hayne was an honest and sincere defender of the doctrine of the State Rights, and was held in high esteem by his political opponents.
The obnoxious tariff laws passing, General Hayne was elected Governor of his State; the people feeling that they could place the helm of their ship in no safer hands during the trying ordeal they felt they were to pass through. In replying to President Jackson's celebrated proclamation Hayne issued a counter-manifesto full of defiance. Happily the compromise of Mr. Clay postponed for thirty years the threatened civil war.
The evening of the close of that great debate at a presidential levee, Mr. Webster challenged Mr. Hayne to drink a glass of wine with him, saying, "General Hayne, I drink to your health, and hope that you may live a thousand years." Hayne's disposition is shown by his reply: "I shall not live a hundred if you make another such a speech." If he felt there was merit in an individual he was quickest to admit it even when it might be to his own detriment, and when it is remembered that he was one of the first to compliment Webster on his great parliamentary success, his noble qualities are shown in their true colors.
After serving in the gubernatorial chair with great distinction he retired to become Mayor of Charleston. He now turned his attention especially to internal improvements, and soon became president of the Charleston, Louisville & Cincinnati Railway. This office he held at his death, which occurred in his fiftieth year, September 24th, 1841. There are many things in the character of General Hayne worthy of study.
On January 8th, 1782, was born at Franklin, New Hampshire, a son to a comparatively poor farmer. No royal blood flowed through the veins of this child whereby to bring him honor, yet one day he was to rise to the foremost rank among the rulers of his country. At that early period the town of Salisbury, now Franklin, was the extreme northern settlement in New Hampshire, and the schools were of necessity in a primitive state.
Daniel Webster labored on his father's farm during the summer, and a few months of each winter attended the district school some two miles from his home. Considering the cold, and the heavy snows which are characteristic of his native State, one can scarcely realize the amount of energy he must have utilized to enable him to enter Exeter Academy at the early age of fourteen, and one year later, Dartmouth College. He is represented as promising nothing of his future greatness at this time, but it is stated that he pursued every study with EXTRAORDINARY TENACITY.
He read widely, especially in history and general English literature, and thereby laid a good foundation for the splendid education which his personal energy at last brought him. As a matter of course, such a line of action must bring out what qualities might be in any man. The college societies soon sought him as a member.
While at Exeter he could hardly muster courage to speak before his class, but before he had finished his college course he had delivered addresses before the societies, which found their way into print. His diligence soon placed him at the head of his class, a position he maintained until the close of his college studies, graduating in 1801 with high honors.
Choosing law as his profession, he entered the law office of a friend and neighbor, Thomas Thompson, who afterwards became a congressman and eventually a senator. Mr. Webster remained here for some time when he left the office to become a teacher in Maine at a salary of $350 per year, which he enlarged somewhat by copying deeds. He afterwards returned to the office of Mr. Thompson where he remained until 1804, when he went to Boston and entered the office of Christopher Gove, who also distinguished himself afterwards as governor of Massachusetts.
He had previously helped his brother Ezekiel to prepare for college, and Daniel now in turn was helped to continue his law studies as Ezekiel was teaching. His opportunity to enter the office of Mr. Gove proved most fortunate, as he was thus enabled to study men, books and daily hear intelligent discussions on the topics of national interest.
In 1805 he was admitted to the bar, and established himself at Boscawen. He had been offered the clerkship of the Hillsboro County Court at a salary of $1,500 a year, which was then a large income, and he was urged to accept it by his father and other friends, but was dissuaded from so doing by Mr. Gove, who foresaw great honor in store for him at the bar. He practiced at Boscawen one year, when he was admitted to practice in the Superior Court of New Hampshire, and he established himself at Portsmouth, at that time the capital of the State. Here he rose to distinction among the most eminent counsellors. During his nine years residence in Portsmouth he gave his especial attention to constitutional law, becoming one of the soundest practitioners in the State.
He had inherited from his father the principles of the Federalist party, and, therefore, advocated them in speeches on public occasions, but did not for some years enter into politics. Mr. Webster came forward in a time when party spirit ran high, and the declaration of war in 1812, long deprecated by his party, created a demand for the best talent the country afforded. Mr. Webster now held a commanding reputation, and in 1812 he was sent to Congress. This was a most favorable time for Webster to enter Congress, as measures of the greatest importance were now to be discussed.
Henry Clay was speaker of the house, and placed this new member on a most important committee. June 10, 1813, he delivered his maiden speech on the repeal of the Berlin and Milan decrees. These decrees were a scheme of Napoleon's, avowedly directed against the commercial interests of Great Britain.
They closed all ports of France, and her allied countries against all vessels coming from England or any English colony. All commerce and correspondence was prohibited. All English merchandise was seized, and English subjects found in any country governed by France were held prisoners of war.
Great Britain retaliated by prohibiting neutral vessels from entering the ports of France under pain of confiscation; and a later order placed France and her allies, together with all countries with whom England was at war, under the same restriction.
Napoleon then issued his decree from Milan and the Tuileries declaring that any vessel that had ever been searched by English authority, or had ever paid duty to England, should be treated as a lawful prize of war.
Mr. Webster's first speech, as before stated, was upon a resolution on the repeal of these decrees, and so ably did he define our duty as a country, in the matter, and so clearly did he show wherein both England and France had transgressed; that, being a new member, unknown outside of his own section of the Union, his lucid and eloquent appeal took the house and nation by surprise.
His subsequent speeches on the increase of the navy and the repeal of the embargo act won for him a first place among the great debaters of his day. He cultivated a friendly relation with political opponents as well as partisan friends, which soon gained for him the respect of all and he became the acknowledged leader of the Federal party. He was re-elected to Congress in 1814 by a large majority, and in the debates upon the United States bank which followed, he displayed a most remarkable mastery of the financial questions of his time. Afterward a bill which was introduced by him passed, requiring all payments to the treasury to be made in specie or its equivalent, restored the depreciated currency of the country.
His home and library was burned and after some hesitation as to whether to locate in Boston or Albany, he decided on the former whither he moved, and where he lived the remainder of his life. This change of location gave greater scope for the extension of his legal business, and his resignation from Congress increased still further his time and opportunities. During the next seven years he devoted his exclusive attention to his profession, taking a position as counsellor, above which no one has ever risen in this country, and the best class of business passed into his hands.
In 1816 the legislature of New Hampshire reorganized the corporation of Dartmouth College, changing its name to Dartmouth University, and selecting new trustees. The newly-created body took possession of the institution, and the old board brought action against the new management. The case involved the powers of the legislature over the old corporation without their consent. It was decided twice in the affirmative by the courts of the State, when it was appealed to Washington, the highest court.
Mr. Webster opened the case, delivering a most eloquent and exhaustive argument for the college. His argument was that it was a private institution supported through charity, over which the State had no control, and that the legislature could not annul except for acts in violation of its charter, which had not been shown. Chief Justice Marshal decided that the act of the legisature was unconstitutional and reversed the previous decisions. This established Mr. Webster's reputation in the Supreme Court, and he was retained in every considerable case thereafter, being considered one of the greatest expounders of constitutional law in the Union.
He was already acknowledged to be among the greatest criminal lawyers, and at the anniversary of the landing of the pilgrim fathers he delivered the first of a series of orations which, aside from his legal and legislative achievements must have made him renowned. He was elected in 1822 to congress, being chosen from Boston, and during 1823 made his world-famous speech on the Greek revolution; a most powerful remonstrance against what has passed into history as "The holy alliance," and he also opposed an extravagant increase of the tariff. He also reported and carried through the house a complete revision of the criminal law of the United States, being chairman of the judiciary committee. In 1827 he was selected by the legislature of Massachusetts to fill a vacancy in the United States senate. In that body he won a foremost position.
Probably the most eloquent exhibition of oratory, based on logic and true statesmanship, ever exhibited in the Senate of the United States was the contest between Mr. Webster, of Massachusetts, and Mr. Hayne, the silver-tongued orator of South Carolina; the debate transpiring in 1830. The subject of discussion before the senate by these two intellectual gladiators grew out of a resolution brought forward by Senator Foot, of Connecticut, just at the close of the previous year with a view of some arrangement concerning the sales of the public lands. But this immediate question was soon lost sight of in the discussion of a great vital principle of constitutional law, namely: The relative powers of the States and the national government.
Upon this Mr. Benton and Mr. Hayne addressed the Senate, condemning the policy of the Eastern States as illiberal toward the West. Mr. Webster replied in vindication of New England, and of the policy of the Government. It was then that Mr. Hayne made his attack—sudden, unexpected, and certainly unexampled—upon Mr. Webster personally, upon Massachusetts and other Northern States politically, and upon the constitution itself. In respect to the latter, Mr. Hayne taking the position that it is constitutional to interrupt the administration of the Constitution itself, in the hands of those who are chosen and sworn to administer it; by the direct interference in form of law, of the States, in virtue of their sovereign capacity.
All of these points were handled by Mr. Hayne with that rhetorical brilliancy, and the power which characterized him as the oratorical champion of the South on the floor of the Senate, and it is not saying too much that the speech produced a profound impression. Mr. Hayne's great effort appeared to be the result of premeditation, concert, and arrangement.
He selected his own time, and that, too, peculiarly inconvenient to Mr. Webster, for at that moment the Supreme Court was proceeding in the hearing of a case of great importance in which he was a leading counsel. For this reason he requested, through a friend, the postponement of the debate. Mr. Hayne objected, however, and the request was refused. The time, the matter, and the manner, indicated that the attack was made with the design to crush so formidable a political opponent as Mr. Webster had become. To this end, personal history, the annals of New England, and the federal party were ransacked for materials.
It was attempted with the usual partisan unfairness of political harangues to make him responsible not only for what was his own, but for the conduct and opinions of others. All the errors and delinquencies, real or supposed, of Massachusetts and the Eastern States, and of the Federal party during the war of 1812, and indeed prior and subsequent to that period were accumulated and heaped upon him.
Thus it was that Mr. Hayne heralded his speech with a bold declaration of war, with taunts and threats, vaunting anticipated triumph—saying 'that he would carry the war into Africa until he had obtained indemnity for the past and security for the future.' It was supposed that as a distinguished representative man, Mr. Webster would be driven to defend what was indefensible, to uphold what could not be sustained and, as a Federalist, to oppose the popular resolutions of '98.
The severe nature of Mr. Hayne's charges, the ability with which he brought them to bear upon his opponents, his great reputation as a brilliant and powerful declaimer, filled the minds of his friends with anticipations of complete triumph. For two days Mr. Hayne had control of the floor. The vehemence of his language and the earnestness of his manner, we might properly say the power of his oratory, added force to the excitement of the occasion. So fluent and melodious was his elocution that his cause naturally begat sympathy. No one had time to deliberate on his rapid words or canvass his sweeping and accumulated statements. The dashing nature of the onset, the assurance, almost insolence of his tone; the serious character of the accusations, confounded almost every hearer.
The immediate impression of the speech was most surely disheartening to the cause Mr. Webster upheld. Congratulations from almost every quarter were showered upon Mr. Hayne. Mr. Benton said in full senate that as much as Mr. Hayne had done before to establish his reputation as an orator, a statesman, a patriot and a gallant son of the South; the efforts of that day would eclipse and surpass the whole. Indeed the speech was extolled as the greatest effort of the time or of other times—neither Chatham or Burke nor Fox had surpassed it in their palmiest days.
Mr. Webster's own feelings with reference to the speech were freely expressed to his friend, Mr. Everett, the evening succeeding Mr. Hayne's closing speech. He regarded the speech as an entirely unprovoked attack on the North, and what was of far more importance, as an exposition of politics in which Mr. Webster's opinion went far to change the form of government from that which was established by the constitution into that which existed under the confederation—if the latter could be called a government at all. He stated it to be his intention therefore to put that theory to rest forever, as far as it could be done by an argument in the senate chamber. How grandly he did this is thus vividly portrayed by Mr. March, an eye-witness, and whose account has been adopted by most historians.
It was on Tuesday, January 26th, 1830—a day to be hereafter memorable in senatorial annals—that the senate resumed the consideration of Foot's resolution. There was never before in the city an occasion of so much excitement. To witness this great intellectual contest multitudes of strangers had, for two or more days previous, been rushing into the city, and the hotels overflowed. As early as nine o'clock in the morning crowds poured into the capitol in hot haste; at twelve o'clock, the hour of meeting, the senate chamber, even its galleries, floor, and lobbies was filled to its utmost capacity. The very stairways were dark with men who hung on to one another like bees in a swarm.
The House of Representatives was early deserted. An adjournment would hardly have made it emptier. The speaker, it is true, retained his chair, but no business of moment was or could be attended to. Members all rushed in to hear Mr. Webster, and no call of the House or other parliamentary proceedings could call them back. The floor of the Senate was so densely crowded that persons once in could not get out.
Seldom, if ever, has a speaker in this or any other country had more powerful incentives to exertion; a subject, the determination of which involved the most important interests and even duration of the Republic—competitors unequaled in reputation, ability, or position; a name to make still more renowned or lose forever; and an audience comprising, not only American citizens most eminent in intellectual greatness, but representatives of other nations where the art of oratory had flourished for ages.
Mr. Webster perceived and felt equal to the destinies of the moment. The very greatness of the hazard exhilarated him. His spirits arose with the occasion. He awaited the time of onset with a stern and impatient joy. He felt like the war-horse of the Scriptures, who 'paweth in the valley and rejoiceth in his strength: who goeth on to meet the armed men who sayeth among the trumpets, ha! ha! and who smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the Captains and the shouting.'
A confidence in his resources, springing from no vain estimate of his power but the legitimate off-spring of previous SEVERE MENTAL DISCIPLINE, sustained and excited him. He had gauged his opponents, his subject and HIMSELF.
He was, too, at this period in the very prime of manhood. He had reached middle-age—an era in the life of man when the faculties, physical or intellectual, may be supposed to attain their fullest organization and most perfect development. Whatever there was in him of intellectual energy and vitality the occasion, his full life and high ambition might well bring forth. He never arose on an ordinary occasion to address an ordinary audience more self-possessed. There was no tremulousness in his voice or manner; nothing hurried, nothing simulated. The calmness of superior strength was visible everywhere; in countenance, voice and bearing. A deep-seated conviction of the extraordinary character of the emergency and of his ability to control it seemed to possess him wholly. If an observer more than ordinarily keen-sighted detected at times something like exultation in his eye, he presumed it sprang from the excitement of the moment and the anticipation of victory. The anxiety to hear the speech was so intense, irrepressible and universal that no sooner had the vice-president assumed the chair that a motion was made and unanimously carried to postpone the ordinary preliminaries of senatorial action and take up immediately the consideration of the resolution.
Mr. Webster arose and addressed the Senate. His exordium is known by heart everywhere. "Mr. President when the mariner has been tossed about 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 further on the waves of this debate refer to the point from which we departed that we may at least be able to form some conjecture where we now are. I ask for the reading of the resolutions."
Calm, resolute, impressive was this opening speech. There wanted no more to enchain the attention. There was a spontaneous though silent expression of eager attention as the orator concluded these opening remarks. And while the clerk read the resolution many attempted the impossibility of getting nearer the speaker. Every head was inclined closer toward him, every ear turned in the direction of his voice—and that deep, sudden, mysterious silence followed which always attends fullness of emotion. From the sea of upturned faces before him the orator beheld his thought, reflected as from a mirror. The varying countenance, the suffused eye, the earnest smile and ever attentive look assured him of the intense interest excited. If among his hearers there were some who affected indifference at first to his glowing thoughts and fervant periods, the difficult mask was soon laid aside and profound, undisguised, devout attention followed.
In truth, all sooner or later, voluntarily, or in spite of themselves were wholly carried away by the spell of such unexampled eloquence. Those who had doubted Mr. Webster's power to cope with and overcome his opponent were fully satisfied of their error before he had proceeded far in this debate. Their fears soon took another direction. When they heard his sentences of powerful thought towering in accumulated grandeur one above the other as if the orator strove Titan-like to reach the very heavens themselves, they were giddy with an apprehension that he would break down in his flight. They dared not believe that genius, learning—any intellectual endowment however uncommon, that was simply mortal—could sustain itself long in a career seemingly so perilous. They feared an Icarian fall. No one surely who was present, could ever forget the awful burst of eloquence with which the orator apostrophized the old Bay State which Mr. Hayne had so derided, or the tones of deep pathos in which her defense was pronounced:—
"Mr. President: I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts. There she is—behold her and judge for yourselves. There is her history, the world knows it by heart. The past at least is secure. There is Boston, and Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill, and there they will remain forever. The bones of her sons falling in the great struggle for independence now lie mingled with the soil of every State from New England to Georgia, and there they will remain forever. And sir, where American liberty raised its first voice, and where its youth was nurtured and sustained, there it still lives in the strength of its manhood and full of its original spirit. If discord and disunion shall wound it, if party strife and blind ambition shall hawk at and tear it, if folly and madness, if uneasiness under salutary and necessary restraint, shall succeed to separate it from that Union by which alone its existence is made sure it will stand in the end by the side of that cradle in which its infancy was rocked, it will stretch forth its arm with whatever vigor it may still retain over the friends who gather around it and it will fall at last, if fall it must, amidst the proudest monuments of its own glory and on the very spot of its origin."
No New England heart but throbbed with vehement emotion as Mr. Webster dwelt upon New England sufferings, New England struggles, and New England triumphs during the war of the Revolution. There was scarcely a dry eye in the Senate; all hearts were overcome; grave judges and men grown old in dignified life turned aside their heads to conceal the evidence of their emotion.
We presume that none but those present can understand the excitement of the scene. No one who was present can, it seems, give an adequate description of it. No word-painting can convey the deep, intense enthusiasm, the reverential attention of that vast assembly, nor limner transfer to canvas their earnest, eager, awe-struck countenances. Though language were as subtle and flexible as thought it would still be impossible to represent the full idea of the occasion. Much of the instantaneous effect of the speech arose of course from the orator's delivery—the tones of his voice, his countenance and manner. These die mostly with the occasion, they can only be described in general terms.
"Of the effectiveness of Mr. Webster's manner in many parts," says Mr. Everett, himself almost without a peer as an orator, "it would be in vain to attempt to give any one not present the faintest idea. It has been my fortune to hear some of the ablest speeches of the greatest living orators on both sides of the water, but I must confess I never heard anything which so completely realized my conception of what Demosthenes was when he delivered the oration for the Crown."
Could there be higher praise than this? Keen nor Kemble nor any other masterly delineator of the human passions ever produced a more powerful impression upon an audience or swayed so completely their hearts. No one ever looked the orator as he did; in form and feature how like a god! His countenance spake no less audibly than his words. His manner gave new force to his language. As he stood swaying his right arm like a huge tilt-hammer, up and down, his swarthy countenance lighted up with excitement, he appeared amid the smoke, the fire, the thunder of his eloquence like Vulcan in his armory forging thoughts for the gods!
Time had not thinned nor bleached his hair; it was as dark as the raven's plumage, surmounting his massive brow in ample folds. His eye always dark and deep-set enkindled by some glowing thought shown from beneath his somber overhanging brow like lights in the blackness of night from a sepulcher. No one understood better than Mr. Webster the philosophy of dress; what a powerful auxiliary it is to speech and manner when harmonizing with them. On this occasion he appeared in a blue coat, a buff vest, black pants and white cravat; a costume strikingly in keeping with his face and expression. The human face never wore an expression of more withering, relentless scorn than when the orator replied to Hayne's allusion to the "Murdered Coalition"—a piece of stale political trumpery well understood at that day.
"It is," said Mr. Webster, "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 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, down to the place where it lies itself." He looked as he spoke these words as if the thing he alluded to was too mean for scorn itself, and the sharp stinging enunciation made the words still more scathing. The audience seemed relieved, so crushing was the expression of his face which they held onto as 'twere spell-bound—when he turned to other topics. But the good-natured yet provoking irony with which he described the imaginary, though life-like scene of direct collision between the marshaled army of South Carolina under General Hayne on the one side, and the officers of the United States on the other, nettled his opponent even more than his severe satire, it seemed so ridiculously true.
With his true Southern blood Hayne inquired with some degree of emotion if the gentleman from Massachusetts intended any personal imputation by such remarks? To which Mr. Webster replied with perfect good humor, "Assuredly not, just the reverse!" The variety of incident during the speech, and the rapid fluctuation of passions, kept the audience in continual expectation and ceaseless agitation. The speech was a complete drama of serious comic and pathetic scenes, and though a large portion of it was argumentative—an exposition of constitutional law—yet grave as such portion necessarily must be, severely logical and abounding in no fancy or episode, it engrossed throughout undivided attention. The swell of his voice and its solemn roll struck upon the ears of the enraptured hearers in deep and thrilling cadence as waves upon the shore of the far-resounding sea.
The Miltonic grandeur of his words was the fit expression of his great thoughts and raised his hearers up to his theme, and his voice exerted to its utmost power penetrated every recess or corner of the Senate—penetrated even the ante-rooms and stairways, as in closing he pronounced in deepest tones of pathos these words of solemn significance: "When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent, on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood.
"Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the Republic now known and honored throughout the earth; still full, high, advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased nor polluted, not a single star obscured, bearing for its motto no such miserable interrogatory as 'What is all this worth?' nor those other words of folly and delusion: 'Liberty first and Union afterwards,' but everywhere spread all over it characters of living light blazing on all of 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 American heart: 'LIBERTY AND UNION NOW AND FOREVER, ONE AND INSEPARABLE!'"
The speech was over but the tones of the orator still lingered on the ear, and the audience, unconscious of the close, retained their positions. Everywhere around seemed forgetfulness of all but the orator's presence and words. There never was a deeper silence; the feeling was too overpowering to allow expression by voice or hand. But the descending hammer of the chair awoke them with a start, and with one universal, long drawn, deep breath, with which the over-charged heart seeks relief, the crowded assembly broke up and departed.
In the evening President Jackson held a levee at the White House. It was known in advance that Mr. Webster would attend it, and hardly had the hospitable doors of the mansion been thrown open, when the crowd that had filled the Senate-Chamber in the morning rushed in and occupied the room, leaving a vast and increasing crowd at the entrance. On all previous occasions the general himself had been the observed of all observers. His receptions were always gladly attended by large numbers, and to these he himself was always the chief object of attraction on account of his great military and personal reputation, official position, gallant bearing, and courteous manners. But on this occasion the room in which he received his company was deserted as soon as courtesy to the president permitted.
Mr. Webster was in the East room and thither the whole mass hurried. He stood almost in the center of the room pressed upon by surging crowds eager to pay him deference. Hayne, too, was there, and with others went up and complimented Mr. Webster on his brilliant effort. In a subsequent meeting between the two rival debators Webster challenged Hayne to drink a glass of wine with him, saying as he did so, "General Hayne I drink to your health, and I hope that you may live a thousand years." "I shall not live more than one hundred if you make another such a speech," Hayne replied.
To this day Webster's speech is regarded as the master-piece of modern eloquence—unsurpassed by even the mightiest efforts of either Pitt, Fox or Burke—a matchless intellectual achievement and complete forensic triumph. It was to this great, triumphant effort that Mr. Webster's subsequent fame as a statesman was due.
Upon the election of General Harrison to the presidency Mr. Webster was offered his choice of the places in the cabinet, a recognition of ability probably never accorded to any other man before or since. He finally accepted the office of Secretary of State. Our relation with England demanded prompt attention. The differences existing between the two nations relative to the Northern boundary could not be disregarded, and Mr. Webster and Lord Ashburton brought about a treaty which was equally honorable and advantageous to the countries. He was also able later to contribute much toward the settlement of the Oregon boundary question through private channels of influence, though holding no official position at the time.
In 1847 he started on a tour of the Southern States, being well received throughout; especially in Charleston, Columbia, Augusta and Savannah was as well received, but his health failing him in the latter city, he was obliged to abandon his project of making a tour of the whole South. He became Secretary of State under Mr. Fillmore. This position he held at his death which occurred at Marshfield, on the 24th day of October, 1852. Funeral orations were delivered throughout the country in great numbers.