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“What shall we do? Nothing but an embargo will save us. Remove it, and what shall we do?” Sir, it is not for me, an humble and uninflu ential individual, at an awful distance from the predominant influences, to suggest plans of Government. But, to my eye, the path of our duty is as distinct as the Milky Way, — all studded with living sapphires, glowing with cumulating light. It is the path of active preparation ; of dignified energy. It is the path of 1776 ! It consists not in abandoning our rights, but in supporting them, as they exist, and where they exist, on the ocean as well as on the land. But I shall be told, “ This may lead to war.” I ask, “ Are we now at peace ?” Certainly not, unless retiring from insult be peace; unless shrinking under the lash be peace! The surest way to prevent war is not to fear it. The idea that nothing on earth is so dreadful as war is inculcated too studiously among us. Disgrace is worse! Abandonment of essential rights is worse !
152. PREDICTIONS OF DISUNION, 1820. — Wm. Pinkney. Born, 1765 ; died, 1822.
Sir, the People of the United States, if I do not wholly mistake their character, are wise as well as virtuous. They know the value of that Federal association which is to them the single pledge and guarantee of power and peace. Their warm and pious affections will cling to it, as to their only hope of prosperity and happiness, in defiance of pernicious abstractions, by whomsoever inculcated, or howsoever seductive and alluring in their aspect. Sir, it is not an occasion like this, although connected, as, contrary to all reasonable expectation, it has been with fearful and disorganizing theories, which would make our estimates, whether fanciful or sound, of natural law, the measure of civil rights and political sovereignty in the social state, – it is not, I say, an occasion like this, that can harm the Union. It must, indeed, be a mighty storm that can push from its moorings this sacred ark of the common safety. It is not every trifling breeze, however it may be made to sob and howl in imitation of the tempest, by the auxiliary breath of the ambitious, the timid, or the discontented, that can drive this gallant vessel, freighted with everything that is dear to an American busom, upon the rocks, or lay it a sheer hulk upon the ocean.
I may, perhaps, mistake the lattering suggestions of hope (the greatest of all flatterers, as we are told) for the
conclusions of sober reason. Yet it is a pleasing error, if it be an error, and no man shall take it from me.
I will continue to cherish the belief, — ay, Sir, in defiance of the public patronage given to deadly speculations, which, invoking the name of Deity to aid their faculties for mischief, strike at di establishments, I will continue to cherish the belief that the Union of these States is formed to bear up against far greater shocks than, through all vicissitudes, it is ever likely to encounter. I will continue to cherish the belief that, although, like all other human institutions, it may for a season be disturbed, or suffer momentary eclipse by the
transit across its disk of some malignant planet, it possesses a recuperative force, a redeeming energy, in the hearts of the People, that will soon restore it to its wonted calm, and give it back its accustomed splendor. On such a subject I will discard all hysterical apprehensions; I will deal in no sinister auguries; I will indulge in no hypochondriacal forebodings. I will look forward to the future with gay and cheerful hope, and will make the prospect smile, in fancy at least, until overwhelming reality shall render it no longer possible.
153. BRITISH INFLUENCE, 1811.- John Randolph. Born, 1773 ; died, 1833. John Randolph, an eccentric Statesman, but a man of marked talents, was a Virginian by birth, and a descendant, in the seventh generation, from the celebrated Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, a great Indian chief.
IMPUTATIONS of British influence have been uttered against the opponents of this war. Against whom are these charges brought ? Against men who, in the war of the Revolution, were in the Councils of the Nation, or fighting the battles of your country! And by whom are these charges made ? By runaways, chiefly from the British dominions, since the breaking out of the French troubles. The great autocrat of all the Russias receives the homage of our high consideration. The Dey of Algiers and his divan of Pirates are very civil, good sort of people, with whom we find no difficulty in maintaining the relations of peace and amity. “Turks, Jews and Infidels,” — Melimelli or the Little Turtle, — barbarians and savages of every clime and color, are welcome to our arms. With'chiefs of banditti, negro or mulatto, we can treat and can trade. Name, however, but England, and all our antipathies are up in arms against her. Against whom? Against those whose blood runs in our veins; in common with whom we claim Shakspeare, and Newton, and Chatham, for our countrymen ; whose form of government is the freest on earth, our own only excepted; from whom every valuable principle of our own institutions has been borrowed, —- representation, jury trial, voting the supplies, writ of habeas corpus, our whole civil and criminal jurisprudence ; — against our fellow-Protestants, identified in blood, in language, in religion, with ourselves.
In what school did the worthies of our land - the Washingtons, Henrys, Hancocks, Franklins, Rutledges, of America - learn those principles of civil liberty which were so nobly asserted by their wisdom and valor? American resistance to British usurpation has not been more warmly cherished by these great men and their compatriots, not more by Washington, Hancock and Henry, - than by Chatham, and his illustrious associates in the British Parliament. It ought to be remernbered, too, that the heart of the English people was with us. It was a selfish and corrupt Ministry, and their servile tools, to whom we were not more opposed than they were. I trust that none such may ever exist among us ; for tools will never be wanting to subserve the purposes, however ruinous or wicked, of kings and ministers of state. I acknowledge the influence of a Shakspeare and a Milton upon my im
agination; of a Locke, upon my understanding; of a Sidney, upon my political principles; of a Chatham, upon qualities which would to God I possessed in common with that illustrious man! of a Tillotson, a Sherlock, and a Porteus, upon my religion. This is a British influence which I can never shake off.
154. ON THE GREEK QUESTION, 1824. — Id. PERHAPs one of the prettiest themes for declamation ever presented to a deliberative assembly is this proposition in behalf of Greece. But, Sir, I look at the measure as one fraught with deep and deadly danger to the best interests of the American People. Liberty and religion are objects as dear to my heart as to that of any gentleman in this or any other assembly. But, in the name of these holy words, by this powerful spell, is this Nation to be conjured and persuaded out of the highway of Heaven, - out of its present comparatively happy state, into all the disastrous conflicts arising from the policy of European powers, with all the consequences which flow from them?
Sir, I am afraid that along with some most excellent attributes and qualities, – the love of liberty, jury trial, the writ of habeas corpus, and all the blessings of free government, that we have derived from our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, we have got not a little of their John Bull, or, rather, bull-dog spirit — their readiness to fight for anybody, and on any occasion. Sir, England has been for centuries the game-cock of Europe. It is impossible to specify the wars in which she has been engaged for contrary purposes; - and she will, with great pleasure, see us take off her shoulders the labor of preserving the balance of power. We find her fighting now for the Queen of Hungary, then, for her inveterate foe, the King of Prussia ; now at war for the restoration of the Bourbons, - and now on the eve of war with them, for the liberties of Spain. These lines on the subject were never more applicable than they have now become:
“Now Europe's balanced — neither side prevails ;
For nothing 's left in either of the scales.” If we pursue the same policy, we must travel the same road, and endure the same burdens under which England now groans. But, glorious as such a design might be, a President of the United States would, in my apprehension, occupy a prouder place in history, who, when he retires from office, can say to the People who elected him, I leave you without a debt, than if he had fought as many pitched battles as Cæsar, or achieved as many naval victories as Nelson. And what, Sir, is debt? In an individual, it is slavery. It is slavery of the worst sort, surpassing that of the West India Islands, — for it enslaves the mind as well as it enslaves the body; and the creature who can be abject enough to incur and to submit to it receives in that condition of his being an adequate punishment. Of course, I speak of debt, with the exception of unavoidable misfortune. I speak of debt caused by mismanagement, hy unwarrantable generosity, by being generous before being just. I
know that this sentiment was ridiculed by Sheridan, whose lamentable end was the best commentary upon its truth. No, Sir: let us abandon these projects. Let us say to these seven millions of Greeks, “We defended ourselves, when we were but three millions, against a power, in comparison to which the Turk is but as a lamb. Go, and do thou likewise."
155. ON ALTERING THE VIRGINIA CONSTITUTION, 1829.- John Randolph.
Sir, I see no wisdom in making this provision for future changes. You must give Governments time to operate on the People, and give the People time to become gradually assimilated to their institutions. Almost anything is better than this state of perpetual uncertainty. A People may have the best form of Government that the wit of man ever devised, and yet, from its uncertainty alone, may, in effect, live under the worst Government in the world. Sir, how often must I repeat, that change is not reform? I am willing that this new Constitution shall stand as long as it is possible for it to stand; and that, believe me, is a very short time. Sir, it is vain to deny it. They may say what they please about the old Constitution, the defect is not there. It is not in the form of the old edifice, neither in the design nor the elevation; it is in the material, – it is in the People of Virginia. To my knowledge, that People are changed from what they have been. The four hundred men who went out to David were in debt. The partisans of Cæsar were in debt. The fellow-laborers of Catiline were in debt. And I defy you to show me a desperately indebted People, anywhere, who can bear a regular, sober Government. I throw the challenge to all who hear me. I
that the character of the good old Virginia planter — the man who owned from five to twenty slaves, or less, who lived by hard work, and who paid his debts — is passed away. A new order of things is come.
The period has arrived of living by one's wits; of living by contracting debts that one cannot pay; and, above all, of living by office-hunting.
Sir, what do we see? Bankrupts — branded bankrupts — giving great dinners, sending their children to the most expensive schools, giving grand parties, and just as well received as anybody in society! I say that, in such a state of things, the old Constitution was too good for them, they could not bear it. No, Sir; they could not bear a freehold suffrage, and a property representation. I have always endeavored to do the People justice; but I will not flatter them, - I will not pander to their appetite for change. I will do nothing to provide for change. I will not agree to any rule of future apportionment, or to any provision for future changes, called amendments to the Constitution. Those who love change who delight in public confusion — who wish to feed the cauldron, and make it bubble — may vote, if they please, for future changes. But by what spell, by what formula, are you going to bind the People to all future time? The days of Lycurgus are gone by, when we could swear the People
not to alter the Constitution until he should return. You may make what entries on parchment you please ; — give me a Constitution that will last for half a century; that is all I wish for. No Constitution that you can make will last the one-half of half a century. Sir, I will stake anything, short of my salvation, that those who are malecontent now will be more malecontent, three years hence, than they are at this day. I have no favor for this Constitution. I shall vote against its adoption, and I shall advise all the people of my district to set their faces — ay, and their shoulders, too — against it.
156. IN FAVOR OF A STATE LAW AGAINST DUELLING. — Compilation. The bill which has been read, Mr. Speaker, claims the serious attention of this House. It is one in which every citizen is deeply interested. Do not, I implore you, confound the sacred name of honor with the practice of duelling, — with that ferocious prejudice which attaches all the virtues to the point of the sword, and is only fitted to make bad men bold. In what does this prejudice consist? In an opinion the most extravagant and barbarous that ever took possession of the human mind! in the opinion that all the social duties are supplied by courage; that a man is no more a cheat, no more a rascal, no more a calumniator, if he can only fight; and that steel and gunpowder are the true diagnostics of innocence and worth. And so the law of force is made the law of right; murder, the criterion of honor! To grant or receive reparation, one must kill or be killed ! All offences may be wiped out by blood! If wolves could reason, would they be governed by maxims more atrocious than these ?
But we are told that public opinion -- the opinion of the community in which we live — upholds the custom. And, Sir, if it were so, is there not more courage in resisting than in following a false public opinion? The man with a proper self-respect is little sensitive to the unmerited contempt of others. The smile of his own conscience is more prized by him than all that the world can give or take away. Is there any guilt to be compared with that of a voluntary horricide ? Could the dismal recollection of blood so shed cease ever to cry for vengeance at the bottom of the heart? The man who, with real or affected gayety and coolness, goes to a mortal encounter with a fellow-being, is, in my eyes, an object of more horror than the brute beast who strives to tear in pieces one of his kind. True courage is constant, immutable, self-poised. It does not impel us, at one moment, to brave murder and death; and, the next, to shrink pusillanimously from an injurious public opinion. It accompanies the good man everywhere, -- to the field of danger, in his country's cause; to the social circle, to lift his voice in behalf of truth or of the absent; to the pillow of disease, to fortify him against the trials of sickness, and the approach of death. Sir, if public opinion is unsound on this subject, let us not be participants in the guilt of upholding a barbarous custom. Let us affix to it the brand of legislative rebuke and disqualification. Pass this bill,