Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster by Daniel Webster

Part 12 out of 25

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 3.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Thus happy at home, our country, at the same time, holds high the
character of her institutions, her power, her rapid growth, and her
future destiny, in the eyes of all foreign states. One danger only
creates hesitation; one doubt only exists, to darken the otherwise
unclouded brightness of that aspect which she exhibits to the view and
to the admiration of the world. Need I say, that that doubt respects the
permanency of our Union? and need I say, that that doubt is now caused,
more than any thing else, by these very proceedings of South Carolina?
Sir, all Europe is, at this moment, beholding us, and looking for the
issue of this controversy; those who hate free institutions, with
malignant hope; those who love them, with deep anxiety and shivering

The cause, then, Sir, the cause! Let the world know the cause which has
thus induced one State of the Union to bid defiance to the power of the
whole, and openly to talk of secession. Sir, the world will scarcely
believe that this whole controversy, and all the desperate measures
which its support requires, have no other foundation than a difference
of opinion upon a provision of the Constitution, between a majority of
the people of South Carolina, on one side, and a vast majority of the
whole people of the United States, on the other. It will not credit the
fact, it will not admit the possibility, that, in an enlightened age, in
a free, popular republic, under a constitution where the people govern,
as they must always govern under such systems, by majorities, at a time
of unprecedented prosperity, without practical oppression, without evils
such as may not only be pretended, but felt and experienced,--evils not
slight or temporary, but deep, permanent, and intolerable,--a single
State should rush into conflict with all the rest, attempt to put down
the power of the Union by her own laws, and to support those laws by her
military power, and thus break up and destroy the world's last hope. And
well the world may be incredulous. We, who see and hear it, can
ourselves hardly yet believe it. Even after all that had preceded it,
this ordinance struck the country with amazement. It was incredible and
inconceivable that South Carolina should plunge headlong into resistance
to the laws on a matter of opinion, and on a question in which the
preponderance of opinion, both of the present day and of all past time,
was so overwhelmingly against her. The ordinance declares that Congress
has exceeded its just power by laying duties on imports, intended for
the protection of manufactures. This is the opinion of South Carolina;
and on the strength of that opinion she nullifies the laws. Yet has the
rest of the country no right to its opinion also? Is one State to sit
sole arbitress? She maintains that those laws are plain, deliberate, and
palpable violations of the Constitution; that she has a sovereign right
to decide this matter; and that, having so decided, she is authorized to
resist their execution by her own sovereign power; and she declares that
she will resist it, though such resistance should shatter the Union into

Mr. President, I do not intend to discuss the propriety of these laws at
large; but I will ask, How are they shown to be thus plainly and
palpably unconstitutional? Have they no countenance at all in the
Constitution itself? Are they quite new in the history of the
government? Are they a sudden and violent usurpation on the rights of
the States? Sir, what will the civilized world say, what will posterity
say, when they learn that similar laws have existed from the very
foundation of the government, that for thirty years the power was never
questioned, and that no State in the Union has more freely and
unequivocally admitted it than South Carolina herself?

To lay and collect duties and imposts is an _express power_ granted by
the Constitution to Congress. It is, also, an _exclusive power_; for the
Constitution as expressly prohibits all the States from exercising it
themselves. This express and exclusive power is unlimited in the terms
of the grant, but is attended with two specific restrictions: first,
that all duties and imposts shall be equal in all the States; second,
that no duties shall be laid on exports. The power, then, being granted,
and being attended with these two restrictions, and no more, who is to
impose a third restriction on the general words of the grant? If the
power to lay duties, as known among all other nations, and as known in
all our history, and as it was perfectly understood when the
Constitution was adopted, includes a right of discriminating while
exercising the power, and of laying some duties heavier and some
lighter, for the sake of encouraging our own domestic products, what
authority is there for giving to the words used in the Constitution a
new, narrow, and unusual meaning? All the limitations which the
Constitution intended, it has expressed; and what it has left
unrestricted is as much a part of its will as the restraints which it
has imposed.

But these laws, it is said, are unconstitutional on account of the
_motive_. How, Sir, can a law be examined on any such ground? How is the
motive to be ascertained? One house, or one member, may have one motive;
the other house, or another member, another. One motive may operate
to-day, and another to-morrow. Upon any such mode of reasoning as this,
one law might be unconstitutional now, and another law, in exactly the
same words, perfectly constitutional next year. Besides, articles may
not only be taxed for the purpose of protecting home products, but other
articles may be left free, for the same purpose and with the same
motive. A law, therefore, would become unconstitutional from what it
omitted, as well as from what it contained. Mr. President, it is a
settled principle, acknowledged in all legislative halls, recognized
before all tribunals, sanctioned by the general sense and understanding
of mankind, that there can be no inquiry into the motives of those who
pass laws, for the purpose of determining on their validity. If the law
be within the fair meaning of the words in the grant of the power, its
authority must be admitted until it is repealed. This rule, everywhere
acknowledged, everywhere admitted, is so universal and so completely
without exception, that even an allegation of fraud, in the majority of
a legislature, is not allowed as a ground to set aside a law.

But, Sir, is it true that the motive for these laws is such as is
stated? I think not. The great object of all these laws is,
unquestionably, revenue. If there were no occasion for revenue, the laws
would not have been passed; and it is notorious that almost the entire
revenue of the country is derived from them. And as yet we have
collected none too much revenue. The treasury has not been more reduced
for many years than it is at the present moment. All that South Carolina
can say is, that, in passing the laws which she now undertakes to
nullify, _particular imported articles were taxed, from a regard to the
protection of certain articles of domestic manufacture, higher than they
would have been had no such regard been entertained_. And she insists,
that, according to the Constitution, no such discrimination can be
allowed; that duties should be laid for revenue, and revenue only; and
that it is unlawful to have reference, in any case, to protection. In
other words, she denies the power of DISCRIMINATION. She does not, and
cannot, complain of excessive taxation; on the contrary, she professes
to be willing to pay any amount for revenue, merely as revenue; and up
to the present moment there is no surplus of revenue. Her grievance,
then, that plain and palpable violation of the Constitution which she
insists has taken place, is simply the exercise of the power of
DISCRIMINATION. Now, Sir, is the exercise of this power of
discrimination plainly and palpably unconstitutional?

I have already said, the power to lay duties is given by the
Constitution in broad and general terms. There is also conferred on
Congress the whole power of regulating commerce, in another distinct
provision. Is it clear and palpable, Sir, can any man say it is a case
beyond doubt, that, under these two powers, Congress may not justly
_discriminate_, in laying duties, _for the purpose of countervailing the
policy of foreign nations, or of favoring our own home productions_?
Sir, what ought to conclude this question for ever, as it would seem to
me, is, that the regulation of commerce and the imposition of duties
are, in all commercial nations, powers avowedly and constantly exercised
for this very end. That undeniable truth ought to settle the question;
because the Constitution ought to be considered, when it uses well-known
language, as using it in its well-known sense. But it is equally
undeniable, that it has been, from the very first, fully believed that
this power of discrimination was conferred on Congress; and the
Constitution was itself recommended, urged upon the people, and
enthusiastically insisted on in some of the States, for that very
reason. Not that, at that time, the country was extensively engaged in
manufactures, especially of the kinds now existing. But the trades and
crafts of the seaport towns, the business of the artisans and manual
laborers,--those employments, the work in which supplies so great a
portion of the daily wants of all classes,--all these looked to the new
Constitution as a source of relief from the severe distress which
followed the war. It would, Sir, be unpardonable, at so late an hour, to
go into details on this point; but the truth is as I have stated. The
papers of the day, the resolutions of public meetings, the debates in
the contentions, all that we open our eyes upon in the history of the
times, prove it.

Sir, the honorable gentleman from South Carolina has referred to two
incidents connected with the proceedings of the Convention at
Philadelphia, which he thinks are evidence to show that the power of
protecting manufactures by laying duties, and by commercial regulations,
was not intended to be given to Congress. The first is, as he says, that
a power to protect manufactures was expressly proposed, but not granted.
I think, Sir, the gentleman is quite mistaken in relation to this part
of the proceedings of the Convention. The whole history of the
occurrence to which he alludes is simply this. Towards the conclusion of
the Convention, after the provisions of the Constitution had been mainly
agreed upon, after the power to lay duties and the power to regulate
commerce had both been granted, a long list of propositions was made and
referred to the committee, containing various miscellaneous powers, some
or all of which it was thought might be properly vested in Congress.
Among these was a power to establish a university; to grant charters of
incorporation; to regulate stage-coaches on the post-roads, and also the
power to which the gentleman refers, and which is expressed in these
words: "To establish public institutions, rewards, and immunities, for
the promotion of agriculture, commerce, trades, and manufactures." The
committee made no report on this or various other propositions in the
same list. But the only inference from this omission is, that neither
the committee nor the Convention thought it proper to authorize Congress
"to establish public institutions, rewards, and immunities," for the
promotion of manufactures, and other interests. The Convention supposed
it had done enough,--at any rate, it had done all it intended,--when it
had given to Congress, in general terms, the power to lay imposts and
the power to regulate trade. It is not to be argued, from its omission
to give more, that it meant to take back what it had already given. It
had given the impost power; it had given the regulation of trade; and it
did not deem it necessary to give the further and distinct power of
establishing public institutions.

The other fact, Sir, on which the gentleman relies, is the declaration
of Mr. Martin to the legislature of Maryland. The gentleman supposes Mr.
Martin to have urged against the Constitution, that it did not contain
the power of protection. But if the gentleman will look again at what
Mr. Martin said, he will find, I think, that what Mr. Martin complained
of was, that the Constitution, by its prohibitions on the States, had
taken away from the States themselves the power of protecting their own
manufactures by duties on imports. This is undoubtedly true; but I find
no expression of Mr. Martin intimating that the Constitution had not
conferred on Congress the same power which it had thus taken from the

But, Sir, let us go to the first Congress; let us look in upon this and
the other house, at the first session of their organization.

We see, in both houses, men distinguished among the framers, friends,
and advocates of the Constitution. We see in both, those who had drawn,
discussed, and matured the instrument in the Convention, explained and
defended it before the people, and were now elected members of Congress,
to put the new government into motion, and to carry the powers of the
Constitution into beneficial execution. At the head of the government
was WASHINGTON himself, who had been President of the Convention; and in
his cabinet were others most thoroughly acquainted with the history of
the Constitution, and distinguished for the part taken in its
discussion. If these persons were not acquainted with the meaning of the
Constitution, if they did not understand the work of their own hands,
who can understand it, or who shall now interpret it to us?

Sir, the volume which records the proceedings and debates of the first
session of the House of Representatives lies before me. I open it, and I
find that, having provided for the administration of the necessary
oaths, the very first measure proposed for consideration is, the laying
of imposts; and in the very first committee of the whole into which the
House of Representatives ever resolved itself, on this its earliest
subject, and in this its very first debate, the duty of so laying the
imposts as to encourage manufactures was advanced and enlarged upon by
almost every speaker, and doubted or denied by none. The first gentleman
who suggests this as the clear duty of Congress, and as an object
necessary to be attended to, is Mr. Fitzsimons, of Pennsylvania; the
second, Mr. White, of VIRGINIA; the third, Mr. Tucker, of SOUTH

But the great leader, Sir, on this occasion, was Mr. Madison. Was _he_
likely to know the intentions of the Convention and the people? Was _he_
likely to understand the Constitution? At the second sitting of the
committee, Mr. Madison explained his own opinions of the duty of
Congress, fully and explicitly. I must not detain you, Sir, with more
than a few short extracts from these opinions, but they are such as are
clear, intelligible, and decisive. "The States," says he, "that are most
advanced in population, and ripe for manufactures, ought to have their
particular interest attended to, in some degree. While these States
retained the power of making regulations of trade, they had the power to
cherish such institutions. By adopting the present Constitution, they
have thrown the exercise of this power into other hands; they must have
done this with an expectation that those interests would not be
neglected here." In another report of the same speech, Mr. Madison is
represented as using still stronger language; as saying that, the
Constitution having taken this power away from the States and conferred
it on Congress, it would be a _fraud_ on the States and on the people
were Congress to refuse to exercise it.

Mr. Madison argues, Sir, on this early and interesting occasion, very
justly and liberally, in favor of the general principles of unrestricted
commerce. But he argues, also, with equal force and clearness, for
certain important exceptions to these general principles. The first,
Sir, respects those manufactures which had been brought forward under
encouragement by the State governments. "It would be cruel," says Mr.
Madison, "to neglect them, and to divert their industry into other
channels; for it is not possible for the hand of man to shift from one
employment to another without being injured by the change." Again:
"There may be some manufactures which, being once formed, can advance
towards perfection without any adventitious aid; while others, for want
of the fostering hand of government, will be unable to go on at all.
Legislative provision, therefore, will be necessary to collect the
proper objects for this purpose; and this will form another exception to
my general principle." And again: "The next exception that occurs is one
on which great stress is laid by some well-informed men, and this with
great plausibility; that each nation should have, within itself, the
means of defence, independent of foreign supplies; that, in whatever
relates to the operations of war, no State ought to depend upon a
precarious supply from any part of the world. There may be some truth in
this remark; and therefore it is proper for legislative attention."

In the same debate, Sir, Mr. Burk, from SOUTH CAROLINA, supported a duty
on hemp, for the express purpose of encouraging its growth on the strong
lands of South Carolina. "Cotton," he said, "was also in contemplation
among them, and, if good seed could be procured, he hoped might
succeed." Afterwards, Sir, the cotton was obtained, its culture was
protected, and it did succeed. Mr. Smith, a very distinguished member
from the SAME STATE, observed: "It has been said, and justly, that the
States which adopted this Constitution expected its administration would
be conducted with a favorable hand. The manufacturing States wished the
encouragement of manufactures, the maritime States the encouragement of
ship-building, and the agricultural States the encouragement of

Sir, I will detain the Senate by reading no more extracts from these
debates. I have already shown a majority of the members of SOUTH
CAROLINA, in this very first session, acknowledging this power of
protection, voting for its exercise, and proposing its extension to
their own products. Similar propositions came from Virginia; and,
indeed, Sir, in the whole debate, at whatever page you open the volume,
you find the power admitted, and you find it applied to the protection
of particular articles, or not applied, according to the discretion of
Congress. No man denied the power, no man doubted it; the only questions
were, in regard to the several articles proposed to be taxed, whether
they were fit subjects for protection, and what the amount of that
protection ought to be. Will gentlemen, Sir, now answer the argument
drawn from these proceedings of the first Congress? Will they undertake
to deny that that Congress did act on the avowed principle of
protection? Or, if they admit it, will they tell us how those who framed
the Constitution fell, thus early, into this great mistake about its
meaning? Will they tell us how it should happen that they had so soon
forgotten their own sentiments and their own purposes? I confess I have
seen no answer to this argument, nor any respectable attempt to answer
it. And, Sir, how did this debate terminate? What law was passed? There
it stands, Sir, among the statutes, the second law in the book. It has a
_preamble_, and that preamble expressly recites, that the duties which
it imposes are laid "for the support of government, for the discharge of
the debts of the United States, and _the encouragement and protection of
manufactures_." Until, Sir, this early legislation, thus coeval with the
Constitution itself, thus full and explicit, can be explained away, no
man can doubt of the meaning of that instrument in this respect.

Mr. President, this power of _discrimination_, thus admitted, avowed,
and practised upon in the first revenue act, has never been denied or
doubted until within a few years past. It was not at all doubted in
1816, when it became necessary to adjust the revenue to a state of
peace. On the contrary, the power was then exercised, not without
opposition as to its expediency, but, as far as I remember or have
understood, without the slightest opposition founded on any supposed
want of constitutional authority. Certainly, SOUTH CAROLINA did not
doubt it. The tariff of 1816 was introduced, carried through, and
established, under the lead of South Carolina. Even the minimum policy
is of South Carolina origin. The honorable gentleman himself supported,
and ably supported, the tariff of 1816. He has informed us, Sir, that
his speech on that occasion was sudden and off-hand, he being called up
by the request of a friend. I am sure the gentleman so remembers it, and
that it was so; but there is, nevertheless, much method, arrangement,
and clear exposition in that extempore speech. It is very able, very,
very much to the point, and very decisive. And in another speech,
delivered two months earlier, on the proposition to repeal the internal
taxes, the honorable gentleman had touched the same subject, and had
declared "_that a certain encouragement ought to be extended at least to
our woollen and cotton manufactures_." I do not quote these speeches,
Sir, for the purpose of showing that the honorable gentleman has changed
his opinion: my object is other and higher. I do it for the sake of
saying that that cannot be so plainly and palpably unconstitutional as
to warrant resistance to law, nullification, and revolution, which the
honorable gentleman and his friends have heretofore agreed to and acted
upon without doubt and without hesitation. Sir, it is no answer to say
that the tariff of 1816 was a revenue bill. So are they all revenue
bills. The point is, and the truth is, that the tariff of 1816, like the
rest, _did discriminate_; it did distinguish one article from another;
it did lay duties for protection. Look to the case of coarse cottons
under the minimum calculation: the duty on these was from sixty to
eighty per cent. Something beside revenue, certainly, was intended in
this; and, in fact, the law cut up our whole commerce with India in that

It is, Sir, only within a few years that Carolina has denied the
constitutionality of these protective laws. The gentleman himself has
narrated to us the true history of her proceedings on this point. He
says, that, after the passing of the law of 1828, despairing then of
being able to abolish the system of protection, political men went forth
among the people, and set up the doctrine that the system was
unconstitutional. "_And the people_," says the honorable gentleman,
"_received the doctrine_." This, I believe, is true, Sir. The people did
then receive the doctrine; they had never entertained it before. Down to
that period, the constitutionality of these laws had been no more
doubted in South Carolina than elsewhere. And I suspect it is true, Sir,
and I deem it a great misfortune, that, to the present moment, a great
portion of the people of the State have never yet seen more than one
side of the argument. I believe that thousands of honest men are
involved in scenes now passing, led away by one-sided views of the
question, and following their leaders by the impulses of an unlimited
confidence. Depend upon it, Sir, if we can avoid the shock of arms, a
day for reconsideration and reflection will come; truth and reason will
act with their accustomed force, and the public opinion of South
Carolina will be restored to its usual constitutional and patriotic

But, Sir, I hold South Carolina to her ancient, her cool, her
uninfluenced, her deliberate opinions. I hold her to her own admissions,
nay, to her own claims and pretensions, in 1789, in the first Congress,
and to her acknowledgments and avowed sentiments through a long series
of succeeding years. I hold her to the principles on which she led
Congress to act in 1816; or, if she have changed her own opinions, I
claim some respect for those who still retain the same opinions. I say
she is precluded from asserting that doctrines, which she has herself so
long and so ably sustained, are plain, palpable, and dangerous
violations of the Constitution.

Mr. President, if the friends of nullification should be able to
propagate their opinions, and give them practical effect, they would, in
my judgment, prove themselves the most skilful "architects of ruin," the
most effectual extinguishers of high-raised expectation, the greatest
blasters of human hopes, that any age has produced. They would stand up
to proclaim, in tones which would pierce the ears of half the human
race, that the last great experiment of representative government had
failed. They would send forth sounds, at the hearing of which the
doctrine of the divine right of kings would feel, even in its grave, a
returning sensation of vitality and resuscitation. Millions of eyes, of
those who now feed their inherent love of liberty on the success of the
American example, would turn away from beholding our dismemberment, and
find no place on earth whereon to rest their gratified sight. Amidst the
incantations and orgies of nullification, secession, disunion, and
revolution, would be celebrated the funeral rites of constitutional and
republican liberty.

But, Sir, if the government do its duty, if it act with firmness and
with moderation, these opinions cannot prevail. Be assured, Sir, be
assured, that, among the political sentiments of this people, the love
of union is still uppermost. They will stand fast by the Constitution,
and by those who defend it. I rely on no temporary expedients, on no
political combination; but I rely on the true American feeling, the
genuine patriotism of the people, and the imperative decision of the
public voice. Disorder and confusion, indeed, may arise; scenes of
commotion and contest are threatened, and perhaps may come. With my
whole heart, I pray for the continuance of the domestic peace and quiet
of the country. I desire, most ardently, the restoration of affection
and harmony to all its parts. I desire that every citizen of the whole
country may look to this government with no other sentiments than those
of grateful respect and attachment. But I cannot yield even to kind
feelings the cause of the Constitution, the true glory of the country,
and the great trust which we hold in our hands for succeeding ages. If
the Constitution cannot be maintained without meeting these scenes of
commotion and contest, however unwelcome, they must come. We cannot, we
must not, we dare not, omit to do that which, in our judgment, the
safety of the Union requires. Not regardless of consequences, we must
yet meet consequences; seeing the hazards which surround the discharge
of public duty, it must yet be discharged. For myself, Sir, I shun no
responsibility justly devolving on me, here or elsewhere, in attempting
to maintain the cause. I am bound to it by indissoluble ties of
affection and duty, and I shall cheerfully partake in its fortunes and
its fate. I am ready to perform my own appropriate part, whenever and
wherever the occasion may call on me, and to take my chance among those
upon whom blows may fall first and fall thickest. I shall exert every
faculty I possess in aiding to prevent the Constitution from being
nullified, destroyed, or impaired; and even should I see it fall, I will
still, with a voice feeble, perhaps, but earnest as ever issued from
human lips, and with fidelity and zeal which nothing shall extinguish,
call on the PEOPLE to come to its rescue.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Rives.]



[In February, 1831, several distinguished gentlemen of the city of New
York, in behalf of themselves and a large number of other citizens,
invited Mr. Webster to a public dinner, as a mark of their respect for
the value and success of his efforts, in the preceding session of
Congress, in defence of the Constitution of the United States. His
speech in reply to Mr. Hayne (contained in an earlier part of this
volume), which, by that time, had been circulated and read through the
country to a greater extent than any speech ever before delivered in
Congress, was the particular effort which led to this invitation.

The dinner took place at the City Hotel, on the 10th of March, and was
attended by a very large assembly.

Chancellor Kent presided, and, in proposing to the company the health of
their guest, made the following remarks:--

"New England has been long fruitful in great men, the necessary
consequence of the admirable discipline of her institutions; and we
are this day honored with the presence of one of those cherished
objects of her attachment and pride, who has an undoubted and
peculiar title to our regard. It is a plain truth, that he who
defends the constitution of his country by his wisdom in council is
entitled to share her gratitude with those who protect it by valor
in the field. Peace has its victories as well as war. We all
recollect a late memorable occasion, when the exalted talents and
enlightened patriotism of the gentleman to whom I have alluded were
exerted in the support of our national Union and the sound
interpretation of its charter.

"If there be any one political precept pre-eminent above all others
and acknowledged by all, it is that which dictates the absolute
necessity of a union of the States under one government, and that
government clothed with those attributes and powers with which the
existing Constitution has invested it. We are indebted, under
Providence, to the operation and influence of the powers of that
Constitution for our national honor abroad and for unexampled
prosperity at home. Its future stability depends upon the firm
support and due exercise of its legitimate powers in all their
branches. A tendency to disunion, to anarchy among the members
rather than to tyranny in the head, has been heretofore the
melancholy fate of all the federal governments of ancient and
modern Europe. Our Union and national Constitution were formed, as
we have hitherto been led to believe, under better auspices and
with improved wisdom. But there was a deadly principle of disease
inherent in the system. The assumption by any member of the Union
of the right to question and resist, or annul, as its own judgment
should dictate, either the laws of Congress, or the treaties, or
the decisions of the federal courts, or the mandates of the
executive power, duly made and promulgated as the Constitution
prescribes, was a most dangerous assumption of power, leading to
collision and the destruction of the system. And if, contrary to
all our expectations, we should hereafter fail in the grand
experiment of a confederate government extending over some of the
fairest portions of this continent, and destined to act, at the
same time, with efficiency and harmony, we should most grievously
disappoint the hopes of mankind, and blast for ever the fruits of
the Revolution.

"But, happily for us, the refutation of such dangerous pretensions,
on the occasion referred to, was signal and complete. The false
images and delusive theories which had perplexed the thoughts and
disturbed the judgments of men, were then dissipated in like manner
as spectres disappear at the rising of the sun. The inestimable
value of the Union, and the true principles of the Constitution,
were explained by clear and accurate reasonings, and enforced by
pathetic and eloquent illustrations. The result was the more
auspicious, as the heretical doctrines which were then fairly
reasoned down had been advanced by a very respectable portion of
the Union, and urged on the floor of the Senate by the polished
mind, manly zeal, and honored name of a distinguished member from
the South.

"The consequences of that discussion have been extremely
beneficial. It turned the attention of the public to the great
doctrines of national rights and national union. Constitutional law
ceased to remain wrapped up in the breasts, and taught only by the
responses, of the living oracles of the law. Socrates was said to
have drawn down philosophy from the skies, and scattered it among
the schools. It may with equal truth be said, that constitutional
law, by means of those senatorial discussions and the master genius
that guided them, was rescued from the archives of our tribunals
and the libraries of lawyers, and placed under the eye, and
submitted to the judgment, of the American people. _Their verdict
is with us, and from it, there lies no appeal._"

As soon as the immense cheering and acclamations with which this address
and toast were received had subsided, Mr. Webster rose and addressed the
company as follows.]

I owe the honor of this occasion, Gentlemen, to your patriotic and
affectionate attachment to the Constitution of our country. For an
effort, well intended, however otherwise of unpretending character, made
in the discharge of public duty, and designed to maintain the
Constitution and vindicate its just powers, you have been pleased to
tender me this token of your respect. It would be idle affectation to
deny that it gives me singular gratification. Every public man must
naturally desire the approbation of his fellow-citizens; and though it
may be supposed that I should be anxious, in the first place, not to
disappoint the expectations of those whose immediate representative I
am, it is not possible but that I should feel, nevertheless, the high
value of such a mark of esteem as is here offered. But, Gentlemen, I am
conscious that the main purpose of this occasion is higher than mere
manifestation of personal regard. It is to evince your devotion to the
Constitution, your sense of its transcendent value, and your just alarm
at whatever threatens to weaken its proper authority, or endanger its

Gentlemen, this could hardly be otherwise. It would be strange, indeed,
if the members of this vast commercial community should not be first and
foremost to rally for the Constitution, whenever opinions and doctrines
are advanced hostile to its principles. Where sooner than here, where
louder than here, may we expect a patriotic voice to be raised, when the
union of the States is threatened? In this great emporium, at this
central point of the united commerce of the United States, of all
places, we may expect the warmest, the most determined and universal
feeling of attachment to the national government. Gentlemen, no one can
estimate more highly than I do the natural advantages of your city. No
one entertains a higher opinion than myself, also, of that spirit of
wise and liberal policy, which has actuated the government of your own
great State in the accomplishment of high objects, important to the
growth and prosperity both of the State and the city. But all these
local advantages, and all this enlightened state policy, could never
have made your city what it now is, without the aid and protection of a
general government, extending over all the States, and establishing for
all a common and uniform system of commercial regulation. Without
national character, without public credit, without systematic finance,
without uniformity of commercial laws, all other advantages possessed by
this city would have decayed and perished, like unripe fruit. A general
government was, for years before it was instituted, the great object of
desire to the inhabitants of this city. New York, at a very early day,
was conscious of her local advantages for commerce; she saw her destiny,
and was eager to embrace it; but nothing else than a general government
could make free her path before her, and set her forward on her
brilliant career. She early saw all this, and to the accomplishment of
this great and indispensable object she bent every faculty, and exerted
every effort. She was not mistaken. She formed no false judgment. At the
moment of the adoption of the Constitution, New York was the capital of
one State, and contained thirty-two or three thousand people. It now
contains more than two hundred thousand people, and is justly regarded
as the commercial capital, not only of all the United States, but of the
whole continent also, from the pole to the South Sea. Every page of her
history, for the last forty years, bears high and irresistible testimony
to the benefits and blessings of the general government. Her astonishing
growth is referred to, and quoted, all the world over, as one of the
most striking proofs of the effects of our Federal Union. To suppose her
now to be easy and indifferent, when notions are advanced tending to its
dissolution, would be to suppose her equally forgetful of the past and
blind to the present, alike ignorant of her own history and her own
interest, metamorphosed, from all that she has been, into a being tired
of its prosperity, sick of its own growth and greatness, and infatuated
for its own destruction. Every blow aimed at the union of the States
strikes on the tenderest nerve of her interest and her happiness. To
bring the Union into debate is to bring her own future prosperity into
debate also. To speak of arresting the laws of the Union, of interposing
State power in matters of commerce and revenue, of weakening the full
and just authority of the general government, would be, in regard to
this city, but another mode of speaking of commercial ruin, of abandoned
wharfs, of vacated houses, of diminished and dispersing population, of
bankrupt merchants, of mechanics without employment, and laborers
without bread. The growth of this city and the Constitution of the
United States are coevals and contemporaries. They began together, they
have flourished together, and if rashness and folly destroy one, the
other will follow it to the tomb.

Gentlemen, it is true, indeed, that the growth of this city is
extraordinary, and almost unexampled. It is now, I believe, sixteen or
seventeen years since I first saw it. Within that comparatively short
period, it has added to its number three times the whole amount of its
population when the Constitution was adopted. Of all things having power
to check this prosperity, of all things potent to blight and blast it,
of all things capable of compelling this city to recede as fast as she
has advanced, a disturbed government, an enfeebled public authority, a
broken or a weakened union of the States, would be most efficacious.
This would be cause efficient enough. Every thing else, in the common
fortune of communities, she may hope to resist or to prevent; but this
would be fatal as the arrow of death.

Gentlemen, you have personal recollections and associations, connected
with the establishment and adoption of the Constitution, which are
necessarily called up on an occasion like this. It is impossible to
forget the prominent agency exercised by eminent citizens of your own,
in regard to that great measure. Those great men are now recorded among
the illustrious dead; but they have left names never to be forgotten,
and never to be remembered without respect and veneration. Least of all
can they be forgotten by you, when assembled here for the purpose of
signifying your attachment to the Constitution, and your sense of its
inestimable importance to the happiness of the people.

I should do violence to my own feelings, Gentlemen, I think I should
offend yours, if I omitted respectful mention of distinguished names yet
fresh in your recollections. How can I stand here, to speak of the
Constitution of the United States, of the wisdom of its provisions, of
the difficulties attending its adoption, of the evils from which it
rescued the country, and of the prosperity and power to which it has
raised it, and yet pay no tribute to those who were highly instrumental
in accomplishing the work? While we are here to rejoice that it yet
stands firm and strong, while we congratulate one another that we live
under its benign influence, and cherish hopes of its long duration, we
cannot forget who they were that, in the day of our national infancy, in
the times of despondency and despair, mainly assisted to work out our
deliverance. I should feel that I was unfaithful to the strong
recollections which the occasion presses upon us, that I was not true to
gratitude, not true to patriotism, not true to the living or the dead,
not true to your feelings or my own, if I should forbear to make mention

Coming from the military service of the country yet a youth, but with
knowledge and maturity, even in civil affairs far beyond his years, he
made this city the place of his adoption; and he gave the whole powers
of his mind to the contemplation of the weak and distracted condition of
the country. Daily increasing in acquaintance and confidence with the
people of New York, he saw, what they also saw, the absolute necessity
of some closer bond of union for the States. This was the great object
of desire. He never appears to have lost sight of it, but was found in
the lead whenever any thing was to be attempted for its accomplishment.
One experiment after another, as is well known, was tried, and all
failed. The States were urgently called on to confer such further powers
on the old Congress as would enable it to redeem the public faith, or to
adopt, themselves, some general and common principle of commercial
regulation. But the States had not agreed, and were not likely to agree.
In this posture of affairs, so full of public difficulty and public
distress, commissioners from five or six of the States met, on the
request of Virginia, at Annapolis, in September, 1786. The precise
object of their appointment was to take into consideration the trade of
the United States; to examine the relative situations and trade of the
several States; and to consider how far a uniform system of commercial
regulations was necessary to their common interest and permanent
harmony. Mr. Hamilton was one of these commissioners; and I have
understood, though I cannot assert the fact, that their report was drawn
by him. His associate from this State was the venerable Judge Benson,
who has lived long, and still lives, to see the happy results of the
counsels which originated in this meeting. Of its members, he and Mr.
Madison are, I believe, now the only survivors. These commissioners
recommended, what took place the next year, a general Convention of all
the States, to take into serious deliberation the condition of the
country, and devise such provisions as should render the constitution of
the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the Union. I need
not remind you, that of this Convention Mr. Hamilton was an active and
efficient member. The Constitution was framed, and submitted to the
country. And then another great work was to be undertaken. The
Constitution would naturally find, and did find, enemies and opposers.
Objections to it were numerous, and powerful, and spirited. They were to
be answered; and they were effectually answered. The writers of the
numbers of the Federalist, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Madison, and Mr. Jay, so
greatly distinguished themselves in their discussions of the
Constitution, that those numbers are generally received as important
commentaries on the text, and accurate expositions, in general, of its
objects and purposes. Those papers were all written and published in
this city. Mr. Hamilton was elected one of the distinguished delegation
from the city to the State Convention at Poughkeepsie, called to ratify
the new Constitution. Its debates are published. Mr. Hamilton appears to
have exerted, on this occasion, to the utmost, every power and faculty
of his mind.

The whole question was likely to depend on the decision of New York. He
felt the full importance of the crisis; and the reports of his speeches,
imperfect as they probably are, are yet lasting monuments to his genius
and patriotism. He saw at last his hopes fulfilled; he saw the
Constitution adopted, and the government under it established and
organized. The discerning eye of Washington immediately called him to
that post, which was far the most important in the administration of the
new system. He was made Secretary of the Treasury; and how he fulfilled
the duties of such a place, at such a time, the whole country perceived
with delight and the whole world saw with admiration. He smote the rock
of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth.
He touched the dead corpse of the Public Credit, and it sprung upon its
feet. The fabled birth of Minerva, from the brain of Jove, was hardly
more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United
States, as it burst forth from the conceptions of ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

Your recollections, Gentlemen, your respect, and your affections, all
conspire to bring before you, at such a time as this, another great man,
now too numbered with the dead. I mean the pure, the disinterested, the
patriotic JOHN JAY. His character is a brilliant jewel in the sacred
treasures of national reputation. Leaving his profession at an early
period, yet not before he had singularly distinguished himself in it,
his whole life, from the commencement of the Revolution until his final
retirement, was a life of public service. A member of the first
Congress, he was the author of that political paper which is generally
acknowledged to stand first among the incomparable productions of that
body;[1] productions which called forth that decisive strain of
commendation from the great Lord Chatham, in which he pronounced them
not inferior to the finest productions of the master states of the
world. Mr. Jay had been abroad, and he had also been long intrusted with
the difficult duties of our foreign correspondence at home. He had seen
and felt, in the fullest measure and to the greatest possible extent,
the difficulty of conducting our foreign affairs honorably and usefully,
without a stronger and more perfect domestic union. Though not a member
of the Convention which framed the Constitution, he was yet present
while it was in session, and looked anxiously for its result. By the
choice of this city, he had a seat in the State Convention, and took an
active and zealous part for the adoption of the Constitution. On the
organization of the new government, he was selected by Washington to be
the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; and
surely the high and most responsible duties of that station could not
have been trusted to abler or safer hands. It is the duty of that
tribunal, one of equal importance and delicacy, to decide constitutional
questions, occasionally arising on State laws. The general learning and
ability, and especially the prudence, the mildness, and the firmness of
his character, eminently fitted Mr. Jay to be the head of such a court.
When the spotless ermine of the judicial robe fell on John Jay, it
touched nothing less spotless than itself.

These eminent men, Gentlemen, the contemporaries of some of you, known
to most, and revered by all, were so conspicuous in the framing and
adopting of the Constitution, and called so early to important stations
under it, that a tribute, better, indeed, than I have given, or am able
to give, seemed due to them from us, on this occasion.

There was yet another, of whom mention is to be made. In the
Revolutionary history of the country, the name of CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON
became early prominent. He was a member of that Congress which declared
Independence; and a member, too, of the committee which drew and
reported the immortal Declaration. At the period of the adoption of the
Constitution, he was its firm friend and able advocate. He was a member
of the State Convention, being one of that list of distinguished and
gifted men who represented this city in that body; and he threw the
whole weight of his talents and influence into the doubtful scale of the

Gentlemen, as connected with the Constitution, you have also local
recollections which must bind it still closer to your attachment and
affection. It commenced its being and its blessings here. It was in this
city, in the midst of friends, anxious, hopeful, and devoted, that the
new government started in its course. To us, Gentlemen, who are younger,
it has come down by tradition; but some around me are old enough to have
witnessed, and did witness, the interesting scene of the first
inauguration. They remember what voices of gratified patriotism, what
shouts of enthusiastic hope, what acclamations rent the air, how many
eyes were suffused with tears of joy, how cordially each man pressed the
hand of him who was next to him, when, standing in the open air, in the
centre of the city, in the view of assembled thousands, the first
President of the United States was heard solemnly to pronounce the
words of his official oath, repeating them from the lips of Chancellor
Livingston. You then thought, Gentlemen, that the great work of the
Revolution was accomplished. You then felt that you had a government;
that the United States were then, indeed, united. Every benignant star
seemed to shed its selectest influence on that auspicious hour. Here
were heroes of the Revolution; here were sages of the Convention; here
were minds, disciplined and schooled in all the various fortunes of the
country, acting now in several relations, but all co-operating to the
same great end, the successful administration of the new and untried
Constitution. And he,--how shall I speak of him?--he was at the head,
who was already first in war, who was already first in the hearts of his
countrymen, and who was now shown also, by the unanimous suffrage of the
country, to be first in peace.

Gentlemen, how gloriously have the hopes then indulged been fulfilled!
Whose expectation was then so sanguine, I may almost ask, whose
imagination then so extravagant, as to run forward, and contemplate as
probable, the one half of what has been accomplished in forty years? Who
among you can go back to 1789, and see what this city, and this country,
too, then were; and, beholding what they now are, can be ready to
consent that the Constitution of the United States shall be

Gentlemen, before I leave these pleasant recollections, I feel it an
irresistible impulse of duty to pay a tribute of respect to another
distinguished person, not, indeed, a fellow-citizen of your own, but
associated with those I have already mentioned in important labors, and
an early and indefatigable friend and advocate in the great cause of the
Constitution. I refer to MR. MADISON. I am aware, Gentlemen, that a
tribute of regard from me to him is of little importance; but if it
shall receive your approbation and sanction, it will become of value.
Mr. Madison, thanks to a kind Providence, is yet among the living, and
there is certainly no other individual living, to whom the country is so
much indebted for the blessings of the Constitution. He was one of the
commissioners who met at Annapolis, in 1786, to which meeting I have
already referred, and which, to the great credit of Virginia, had its
origin in a proceeding of that State. He was a member of the Convention
of 1787, and of that of Virginia in the following year. He was thus
intimately acquainted with the whole progress of the formation of the
Constitution, from its very first step to its final adoption. If ever
man had the means of understanding a written instrument, Mr. Madison has
the means of understanding the Constitution. If it be possible to know
what was designed by it, he can tell us. It was in this city, that, in
conjunction with Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Jay, he wrote the numbers of the
Federalist; and it was in this city that he commenced his brilliant
career under the new Constitution, having been elected into the House of
Representatives of the first Congress. The recorded votes and debates of
those times show his active and efficient agency in every important
measure of that Congress. The necessary organization of the government,
the arrangement of the departments, and especially the paramount subject
of revenue, engaged his attention, and divided his labors.

The legislative history of the first two or three years of the
government is full of instruction. It presents, in striking light, the
evils intended to be remedied by the Constitution, and the provisions
which were deemed essential to the remedy of those evils. It exhibits
the country, in the moment of its change from a weak and ill-defined
confederacy of States, into a general, efficient, but still restrained
and limited government. It shows the first working of our peculiar
system, moved, as it then was, by master hands.

Gentlemen, for one, I confess I like to dwell on this part of our
history. It is good for us to be here. It is good for us to study the
situation of the country at this period, to survey its difficulties, to
look at the conduct of its public men, to see how they struggled with
obstacles, real and formidable, and how gloriously they brought the
Union out of its state of depression and distress. Truly, Gentlemen,
these founders and fathers of the Constitution were great men, and
thoroughly furnished for every good work. All that reading and learning
could do; all that talent and intelligence could do; and, what perhaps
is still more, all that long experience in difficult and troubled times
and a deep and intimate practical knowledge of the condition of the
country could do,--conspired to fit them for the great business of
forming a general, but limited government, embracing common objects,
extending over all the States, and yet touching the power of the States
no further than those common objects require. I confess I love to linger
around these original fountains, and to drink deep of their waters. I
love to imbibe, in as full measure as I may, the spirit of those who
laid the foundations of the government, and so wisely and skilfully
balanced and adjusted its bearings and proportions.

Having been afterwards, for eight years, Secretary of State, and as long
President, Mr. Madison has had an experience in the affairs of the
Constitution, certainly second to no man. More than any other man
living, and perhaps more than any other who has lived, his whole public
life has been incorporated, as it were, into the Constitution; in the
original conception and project of attempting to form it, in its actual
framing, in explaining and recommending it, by speaking and writing, in
assisting at the first organization of the government under it, and in a
long administration of its executive powers,--in these various ways he
has lived near the Constitution, and with the power of imbibing its true
spirit, and inhaling its very breath, from its first pulsation of life.
Again, therefore, I ask, If he cannot tell us what the Constitution is,
and what it means, who can? He had retired with the respect and regard
of the community, and might naturally be supposed not willing to
interfere again in matters of political concern. He has, nevertheless,
not withholden his opinions on the vital question discussed on that
occasion, which has caused this meeting. He has stated, with an accuracy
almost peculiar to himself, and so stated as, in my opinion, to place
almost beyond further controversy, the true doctrines of the
Constitution. He has stated, not notions too loose and irregular to be
called even a theory, not ideas struck out by the feeling of present
inconvenience or supposed maladministration, not suggestions of
expediency, or evasions of fair and straightforward construction, but
elementary principles, clear and sound distinctions, and indisputable
truths. I am sure, Gentlemen, that I speak your sentiments, as well as
my own, when I say, that, for making public so clearly and distinctly as
he has done his own opinions on these vital questions of constitutional
law, Mr. Madison has founded a new and strong claim on the gratitude of
a grateful country. You will think, with me, that, at his advanced age,
and in the enjoyment of general respect and approbation for a long
career of public services, it was an act of distinguished patriotism,
when he saw notions promulgated and maintained which he deemed unsound
and dangerous, not to hesitate to come forward and to place the weight
of his own opinion in what he deemed the right scale, come what come
might. I am sure, Gentlemen, it cannot be doubted,--the manifestation is
clear,--that the country feels deeply the force of this new

Gentlemen, what I have said of the benefits of the Constitution to your
city might be said, with little change, in respect to every other part
of the country. Its benefits are not exclusive. What has it left undone,
which any government could do, for the whole country? In what condition
has it placed us? Where do we now stand? Are we elevated, or degraded,
by its operation? What is our condition under its influence, at the very
moment when some talk of arresting its power and breaking its unity? Do
we not feel ourselves on an eminence? Do we not challenge the respect of
the whole world? What has placed us thus high? What has given us this
just pride? What else is it, but the unrestrained and free operation of
that same Federal Constitution, which it has been proposed now to
hamper, and manacle, and nullify? Who is there among us, that, should he
find himself on any spot of the earth where human beings exist, and
where the existence of other nations is known, would not be proud to
say, I am an American? I am a countryman of Washington? I am a citizen
of that republic, which, although it has suddenly sprung up, yet there
are none on the globe who have ears to hear, and have not heard of it;
who have eyes to see, and have not read of it; who know any thing, and
yet do not know of its existence and its glory? And, Gentlemen, let me
now reverse the picture. Let me ask, who there is among us, if he were
to be found to-morrow in one of the civilized countries of Europe, and
were there to learn that this goodly form of government had been
overthrown, that the United States were no longer united, that a
death-blow had been struck upon their bond of union, that they
themselves had destroyed their chief good and their chief honor,--who is
there whose heart would not sink within him? Who is there who would not
cover his face for very shame?

At this very moment, Gentlemen, our country is a general refuge for the
distressed and the persecuted of other nations. Whoever is in affliction
from political occurrences in his own country looks here for shelter.
Whether he be republican, flying from the oppression of thrones, or
whether he be monarch or monarchist, flying from thrones that crumble
and fall under or around him, he feels equal assurance, that, if he get
foothold on our soil, his person will be safe, and his rights will be

And who will venture to say, that, in any government now existing in the
world, there is greater security for persons or property than in that of
the United States? We have tried these popular institutions in times of
great excitement and commotion, and they have stood, substantially, firm
and steady, while the fountains of the great political deep have been
elsewhere broken up; while thrones, resting on ages of prescription,
have tottered and fallen; and while, in other countries, the earthquake
of unrestrained popular commotion has swallowed up all law, and all
liberty, and all right together. Our government has been tried in peace,
and it has been tried in war, and has proved itself fit for both. It has
been assailed from without, and it has successfully resisted the shock;
it has been disturbed within, and it has effectually quieted the
disturbance. It can stand trial, it can stand assault, it can stand
adversity, it can stand every thing, but the marring of its own beauty,
and the weakening of its own strength. It can stand every thing but the
effects of our own rashness and our own folly. It can stand every thing
but disorganization, disunion, and nullification.

It is a striking fact, and as true as it is striking, that at this very
moment, among all the principal civilized states of the world, _that_
government is most secure against the danger of popular commotion which
is itself entirely popular. It seems, indeed, that the submission of
every thing to the public will, under constitutional restraints, imposed
by the people themselves, furnishes itself security that they will
desire nothing wrong.

Certain it is, that popular, constitutional liberty, as we enjoy it,
appears, in the present state of the world, as sure and stable a basis
for government to rest upon, as any government of enlightened states can
find, or does find. Certain it is, that, in these times of so much
popular knowledge, and so much popular activity, those governments which
do not admit the people to partake in their administration, but keep
them under and beneath, sit on materials for an explosion, which may
take place at any moment, and blow them into a thousand atoms.

Gentlemen, let any man who would degrade and enfeeble the national
Constitution, let any man who would nullify its laws, stand forth and
tell us what he would wish. What does he propose? Whatever he may be,
and whatever substitute he may hold forth, I am sure the people of this
country will decline his kind interference, and hold on by the
Constitution which they possess. Any one who would willingly destroy it,
I rejoice to know, would be looked upon with abhorrence. It is deeply
intrenched in the regards of the people. Doubtless it may be undermined
by artful and long-continued hostility; it may be imperceptibly weakened
by secret attack; it may be insidiously shorn of its powers by slow
degrees; the public vigilance may be lulled, and when it awakes, it may
find the Constitution frittered away. In these modes, or some of them,
it is possible that the union of the States may be dissolved.

But if the general attention of the people be kept alive, if they see
the intended mischief before it is effected, they will prevent it by
their own sovereign power. They will interpose themselves between the
meditated blow and the object of their regard and attachment. Next to
the controlling authority of the people themselves, the preservation of
the government is mainly committed to those who administer it. If
conducted in wisdom, it cannot but stand strong. Its genuine, original
spirit is a patriotic, liberal, and generous spirit; a spirit of
conciliation, of moderation, of candor, and charity; a spirit of
friendship, and not a spirit of hostility toward the States; a spirit
careful not to exceed, and equally careful not to relinquish, its just
powers. While no interest can or ought to feel itself shut out from the
benefits of the Constitution, none should consider those benefits as
exclusively its own. The interests of all must be consulted, and
reconciled, and provided for, as far as possible, that all may perceive
the benefits of a united government.

Among other things, we are to remember that new States have arisen,
possessing already an immense population, spreading and thickening over
vast regions which were a wilderness when the Constitution was adopted.
Those States are not, like New York, directly connected with maritime
commerce. They are entirely agricultural, and need markets for
consumption; and they need, too, access to those markets. It is the duty
of the government to bring the interests of these new States into the
Union, and incorporate them closely in the family compact. Gentlemen, it
is not impracticable to reconcile these various interests, and so to
administer the government as to make it useful to all. It was never
easier to administer the government than it is now. We are beset with
none, or with few, of its original difficulties; and it is a time of
great general prosperity and happiness. Shall we admit ourselves
incompetent to carry on the government, so as to be satisfactory to the
whole country? Shall we admit that there has so little descended to us
of the wisdom and prudence of our fathers? If the government could be
administered in Washington's time, when it was yet new, when the country
was heavily in debt, when foreign relations were in a threatening
condition, and when Indian wars pressed on the frontiers, can it not be
administered now? Let us not acknowledge ourselves so unequal to our

Gentlemen, on the occasion referred to by the chair, it became necessary
to consider the judicial power, and its proper functions under the
Constitution. In every free and balanced government, this is a most
essential and important power. Indeed, I think it is a remark of Mr.
Hume, that the administration of justice seems to be the leading object
of institutions of government; that legislatures assemble, that armies
are embodied, that both war and peace are made, with a sort of ultimate
reference to the proper administration of laws, and the judicial
protection of private rights. The judicial power comes home to every
man. If the legislature passes incorrect or unjust general laws, its
members bear the evil as well as others. But judicature acts on
individuals. It touches every private right, every private interest, and
almost every private feeling. What we possess is hardly fit to be called
our own, unless we feel secure in its possession; and this security,
this feeling of perfect safety, cannot exist under a wicked, or even
under a weak and ignorant, administration of the laws. There is no
happiness, there is no liberty, there is no enjoyment of life, unless a
man can say when he rises in the morning, I shall be subject to the
decision of no unjust judge to-day.

But, Gentlemen, the judicial department, under the Constitution of the
United States, possesses still higher duties. It is true, that it may be
called on, and is occasionally called on, to decide questions which are,
in one sense, of a political nature. The general and State governments,
both established by the people, are established for different purposes,
and with different powers. Between those powers questions may arise; and
who shall decide them? Some provision for this end is absolutely
necessary. What shall it be? This was the question before the
Convention; and various schemes were suggested. It was foreseen that the
States might inadvertently pass laws inconsistent with the Constitution
of the United States, or with acts of Congress. At least, laws might be
passed which would be charged with such inconsistency. How should these
questions be disposed of? Where shall the power of judging, in cases of
alleged interference, be lodged? One suggestion in the Convention was,
to make it an executive power, and to lodge it in the hands of the
President, by requiring all State laws to be submitted to him, that he
might negative such as he thought appeared repugnant to the general
Constitution. This idea, perhaps, may have been borrowed from the power
exercised by the crown over the laws of the Colonies. It would evidently
have been, not only an inconvenient and troublesome proceeding, but
dangerous also to the powers of the States. It was not pressed. It was
thought wiser and safer, on the whole, to require State legislatures and
State judges to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United
States, and then leave the States at liberty to pass whatever laws they
pleased, and if interference, in point of fact, should arise, to refer
the question to judicial decision. To this end, the judicial power,
under the Constitution of the United States, was made coextensive with
the legislative power. It was extended to all cases arising under the
Constitution and the laws of Congress. The judiciary became thus
possessed of the authority of deciding, in the last resort, in all cases
of alleged interference, between State laws and the Constitution and
laws of Congress.

Gentlemen, this is the actual Constitution, this is the law of the land.
There may be those who think it unnecessary, or who would prefer a
different mode of deciding such questions. But this is the established
mode, and, till it be altered, the courts can no more decline their duty
on these occasions than on other occasions. But can any reasonable man
doubt the expediency of this provision, or suggest a better? Is it not
absolutely essential to the peace of the country that this power should
exist somewhere? Where can it exist, better than where it now does
exist? The national judiciary is the common tribunal of the whole
country. It is organized by the common authority, and its places filled
by the common agent. This is a plain and practical provision. It was
framed by no bunglers, nor by any wild theorists. And who can say that
it has failed? Who can find substantial fault with its operation or its
results? The great question is, whether we shall provide for the
peaceable decision of cases of collision. Shall they be decided by law,
or by force? Shall the decisions be decisions of peace, or decisions of

On the occasion which has given rise to this meeting, the proposition
contended for in opposition to the doctrine just stated was that every
State, under certain supposed exigencies, and in certain supposed cases,
might decide for itself, and act for itself, and oppose its own force to
the execution of the laws. By what argument, do you imagine, Gentlemen,
was such a proposition maintained? I should call it metaphysical and
subtle; but these terms would imply at least ingenuity, and some degree
of plausibility; whereas the argument appears to me plain assumption,
mere perverse construction of plain language in the body of the
Constitution itself. As I understand it, when put forth in its revised
and most authentic shape, it is this: that the Constitution provides
that any amendments may be made to it which shall be agreed to by three
fourths of the States; there is, therefore, to be nothing in the
Constitution to which three fourths of the States have not agreed. All
this is true; but then comes this inference, namely, that, when one
State denies the constitutionality of any law of Congress, she may
arrest its execution as to herself, and keep it arrested, till the
States can all be consulted by their conventions, and three fourths of
them shall have decided that the law is constitutional. Indeed, the
inference is still stranger than this; for State conventions have no
authority to construe the Constitution, though they have authority to
amend it; therefore the argument must prove, if it prove any thing,
that, when any one State denies that any particular power is included in
the Constitution, it is to be considered as not included, and cannot be
found there till three fourths of the States agree to insert it. In
short, the result of the whole is, that, though it requires three
fourths of the States to insert any thing in the Constitution, yet any
one State can strike any thing out of it. For the power to strike out,
and the power of deciding, without appeal, upon the construction of what
is already in, are substantially and practically the same.

And, Gentlemen, what a spectacle should we have exhibited under the
actual operation of notions like these! At the very moment when our
government was quoted, praised, and commended all over the world, when
the friends of republican liberty everywhere were gazing at it with
delight, and were in perfect admiration at the harmony of its movements,
one State steps forth, and, by the power of nullification, breaks up the
whole system, and scatters the bright chain of the Union into as many
sundered links as there are separate States!

Seeing the true grounds of the Constitution thus attacked, I raised my
voice in its favor, I must confess with no preparation or previous
intention. I can hardly say that I embarked in the contest from a sense
of duty. It was an instantaneous impulse of inclination, not acting
against duty, I trust, but hardly waiting for its suggestions. I felt it
to be a contest for the integrity of the Constitution, and I was ready
to enter into it, not thinking, or caring, personally, how I might come

Gentlemen, I have true pleasure in saying that I trust the crisis has in
some measure passed by. The doctrines of nullification have received a
severe and stern rebuke from public opinion. The general reprobation of
the country has been cast upon them. Recent expressions of the most
numerous branch of the national legislature are decisive and imposing.
Everywhere, the general tone of public feeling is for the Constitution.
While much will be yielded--every thing, almost, but the integrity of
the Constitution, and the essential interests of the country--to the
cause of mutual harmony and mutual conciliation, no ground can be
granted, not an inch, to menace and bluster. Indeed, menace and bluster,
and the putting forth of daring, unconstitutional doctrines, are, at
this very moment, the chief obstacles to mutual harmony and satisfactory
accommodation. Men cannot well reason, and confer, and take counsel
together, about the discreet exercise of a power, with those who deny
that any such power rightfully exists, and who threaten to blow up the
whole Constitution if they cannot otherwise get rid of its operation. It
is matter of sincere gratification, Gentlemen, that the voice of this
great State has been so clear and strong, and her vote all but
unanimous, on the most interesting of these occasions, in the House of
Representatives. Certainly, such respect to the Union becomes New York.
It is consistent with her interests and her character. That singularly
prosperous State, which now is, and is likely to continue to be, the
greatest link in the chain of the Union, will ever be, I am sure, the
strongest link also. The great States which lie in her neighborhood
agreed with her fully in this matter. Pennsylvania, I believe, was loyal
to the Union, to a man; and Ohio raises her voice, like that of a lion,
against whatsoever threatens disunion and dismemberment. This harmony of
sentiment is truly gratifying. It is not to be gainsaid, that the union
of opinion in this great central mass of our population, on this
momentous point of the Constitution, augurs well for our future
prosperity and security.

I have said, Gentlemen, what I verily believe to be true, that there is
no danger to the Union from open and avowed attacks on its essential
principles. Nothing is to be feared from those who will march up boldly
to their own propositions, and tell us that they mean to annihilate
powers exercised by Congress. But, certainly, there are dangers to the
Constitution, and we ought not to shut our eyes to them. We know the
importance of a firm and intelligent judiciary; but how shall we secure
the continuance of a firm and intelligent judiciary? Gentlemen, the
judiciary is in the appointment of the executive power. It cannot
continue or renew itself. Its vacancies are to be filled in the ordinary
modes of executive appointment. If the time shall ever come (which
Heaven avert), when men shall be placed in the supreme tribunal of the
country, who entertain opinions hostile to the just powers of the
Constitution, we shall then be visited by an evil defying all remedy.
Our case will be past surgery. From that moment the Constitution is at
an end. If they who are appointed to defend the castle shall betray it,
woe betide those within! If I live to see that day come, I shall despair
of the country. I shall be prepared to give it back to all its former
afflictions in the days of the Confederation. I know no security against
the possibility of this evil, but an awakened public vigilance. I know
no safety, but in that state of public opinion which shall lead it to
rebuke and put down every attempt, either to gratify party by judicial
appointments, or to dilute the Constitution by creating a court which
shall construe away its provisions. If members of Congress betray their
trust, the people will find it out before they are ruined. If the
President should at any time violate his duty, his term of office is
short, and popular elections may supply a seasonable remedy. But the
judges of the Supreme Court possess, for very good reasons, an
independent tenure of office. No election reaches them. If, with this
tenure, they betray their trusts, Heaven save us! Let us hope for better
results. The past, certainly, may encourage us. Let us hope that we
shall never see the time when there shall exist such an awkward posture
of affairs, as that the government shall be found in opposition to the
Constitution, and when the guardians of the Union shall become its

Gentlemen, our country stands, at the present time, on commanding
ground. Older nations, with different systems of government, may be
somewhat slow to acknowledge all that justly belongs to us. But we may
feel without vanity, that America is doing her part in the great work of
improving human affairs. There are two principles, Gentlemen, strictly
and purely American, which are now likely to prevail throughout the
civilized world. Indeed, they seem the necessary result of the progress
of civilization and knowledge. These are, first, popular governments,
restrained by written constitutions; and, secondly, universal
education. Popular governments and general education, acting and
reacting, mutually producing and reproducing each other, are the mighty
agencies which in our days appear to be exciting, stimulating, and
changing civilized societies. Man, everywhere, is now found demanding a
participation in government,--and he will not be refused; and he demands
knowledge as necessary to self-government. On the basis of these two
principles, liberty and knowledge, our own American systems rest. Thus
far we have not been disappointed in their results. Our existing
institutions, raised on these foundations, have conferred on us almost
unmixed happiness. Do we hope to better our condition by change? When we
shall have nullified the present Constitution, what are we to receive in
its place? As fathers, do we wish for our children better government, or
better laws? As members of society, as lovers of our country, is there
any thing we can desire for it better than that, as ages and centuries
roll over it, it may possess the same invaluable institutions which it
now enjoys? For my part, Gentlemen, I can only say, that I desire to
thank the beneficent Author of all good for being born _where_ I was
born, and _when_ I was born; that the portion of human existence
allotted to me has been meted out to me in this goodly land, and at this
interesting period. I rejoice that I have lived to see so much
development of truth, so much progress of liberty, so much diffusion of
virtue and happiness. And, through good report and evil report, it will
be my consolation to be a citizen of a republic unequalled in the annals
of the world for the freedom of its institutions, its high prosperity,
and the prospects of good which yet lie before it. Our course,
Gentlemen, is onward, straight onward, and forward. Let us not turn to
the right hand, nor to the left. Our path is marked out for us, clear,
plain, bright, distinctly defined, like the milky way across the
heavens. If we are true to our country, in our day and generation, and
those who come after us shall be true to it also, assuredly, assuredly,
we shall elevate her to a pitch of prosperity and happiness, of honor
and power, never yet reached by any nation beneath the sun.

Gentlemen, before I resume my seat, a highly gratifying duty remains to
be performed. In signifying your sentiments of regard, you have kindly
chosen to select as your organ for expressing them the eminent person[3]
near whom I stand. I feel, I cannot well say how sensibly, the manner in
which he has seen fit to speak on this occasion. Gentlemen, if I may be
supposed to have made any attainment in the knowledge of constitutional
law, he is among the masters in whose schools I have been taught. You
see near him a distinguished magistrate,[4] long associated with him in
judicial labors, which have conferred lasting benefits and lasting
character, not only on the State, but on the whole country. Gentlemen, I
acknowledge myself much their debtor. While yet a youth, unknown, and
with little expectation of becoming known beyond a very limited circle,
I have passed days and nights, not of tedious, but of happy and
gratified labor, in the study of the judicature of the State of New
York. I am most happy to have this public opportunity of acknowledging
the obligation, and of repaying it, as far as it can be repaid, by the
poor tribute of my profound regard, and the earnest expression of my
sincere respect.

Gentlemen, I will no longer detain you than to propose a toast:--

The City of New York; herself the noblest eulogy on the Union of the

[Footnote 1: Address to the People of Great Britain.]

[Footnote 2: The reference is to Mr. Madison's letter on the subject of
_Nullification_, in the North American Review, Vol. XXXI. p. 537.]

[Footnote 3: Chancellor Kent, the presiding officer.]

[Footnote 4: Judge Spencer.]



Mr. President,--No one will deny the high importance of the subject now
before us. Congress, after full deliberation and discussion, has passed
a bill, by decisive majorities, in both houses, for extending the
duration of the Bank of the United States. It has not adopted this
measure until its attention had been called to the subject, in three
successive annual messages of the President. The bill having been thus
passed by both houses, and having been duly presented to the President,
instead of signing and approving it, he has returned it with objections.
These objections go against the whole substance of the law originally
creating the bank. They deny, in effect, that the bank is
constitutional; they deny that it is expedient; they deny that it is
necessary for the public service.

It is not to be doubted, that the Constitution gives the President the
power which he has now exercised; but while the power is admitted, the
grounds upon which it has been exerted become fit subjects of
examination. The Constitution makes it the duty of Congress, in cases
like this, to reconsider the measure which they have passed, to weigh
the force of the President's objections to that measure, and to take a
new vote upon the question.

Before the Senate proceeds to this second vote, I propose to make some
remarks upon those objections. And, in the first place, it is to be
observed, that they are such as to extinguish all hope that the present
bank, or any bank at all resembling it, or resembling any known similar
institution, can ever receive his approbation. He states no terms, no
qualifications, no conditions, no modifications, which can reconcile him
to the essential provisions of the existing charter. He is against the
bank, and against any bank constituted in a manner known either to this
or any other country. One advantage, therefore, is certainly obtained by
presenting him the bill. It has caused the President's sentiments to be
made known. There is no longer any mystery, no longer a contest between
hope and fear, or between those prophets who predicted a _veto_ and
those who foretold an approval. The bill is negatived; the President has
assumed the responsibility of putting an end to the bank; and the
country must prepare itself to meet that change in its concerns which
the expiration of the charter will produce. Mr. President, I will not
conceal my opinion that the affairs of the country are approaching an
important and dangerous crisis. At the very moment of almost
unparalleled general prosperity, there appears an unaccountable
disposition to destroy the most useful and most approved institutions of
the government. Indeed, it seems to be in the midst of all this national
happiness that some are found openly to question the advantages of the
Constitution itself and many more ready to embarrass the exercise of its
just power, weaken its authority, and undermine its foundations. How
far these notions may be carried, it is impossible yet to say. We have
before us the practical result of one of them. The bank has fallen, or
is to fall.

It is now certain, that, without a change in our public counsels, this
bank will not be continued, nor will any other be established, which,
according to the general sense and language of mankind, can be entitled
to the name. Within three years and nine months from the present moment,
the charter of the bank expires; within that period, therefore, it must
wind up its concerns. It must call in its debts, withdraw its bills from
circulation, and cease from all its ordinary operations. All this is to
be done in three years and nine months; because, although there is a
provision in the charter rendering it lawful to use the corporate name
for two years after the expiration of the charter, yet this is allowed
only for the purpose of suits and for the sale of the estate belonging
to the bank, and for no other purpose whatever. The whole active
business of the bank, its custody of public deposits, its transfer of
public moneys, its dealing in exchange, all its loans and discounts, and
all its issues of bills for circulation, must cease and determine on or
before the third day of March, 1836; and within the same period its
debts must be collected, as no new contract can be made with it, as a
corporation, for the renewal of loans, or discount of notes or bills,
after that time.

The President is of opinion, that this time is long enough to close the
concerns of the institution without inconvenience. His language is, "The
time allowed the bank to close its concerns is ample, and if it has been
well managed, its pressure will be light, and heavy only in case its
management has been bad. If, therefore, it shall produce distress, the
fault will be its own." Sir, this is all no more than general statement,
without fact or argument to support it. We know what the management of
the bank has been, and we know the present state of its affairs. We can
judge, therefore, whether it be probable that its capital can be all
called in, and the circulation of its bills withdrawn, in three years
and nine months, by any discretion or prudence in management, without
producing distress. The bank has discounted liberally, in compliance
with the wants of the community. The amount due to it on loans and
discounts, in certain large divisions of the country, is great; so
great, that I do not perceive how any man can believe that it can be
paid, within the time now limited, without distress. Let us look at
known facts. Thirty millions of the capital of the bank are now out, on
loans and discounts, in the States on the Mississippi and its waters;
ten millions of which are loaned on the discount of bills of exchange,
foreign and domestic, and twenty millions on promissory notes. Now, Sir,
how is it possible that this vast amount can be collected in so short a
period without suffering, by any management whatever? We are to
remember, that, when the collection of this debt begins, at that same
time the existing medium of payment, that is, the circulation of the
bills of the bank, will begin also to be restrained and withdrawn; and
thus the means of payment must be limited just when the necessity of
making payment becomes pressing. The whole debt is to be paid, and
within the same time the whole circulation withdrawn.

The local banks, where there are such, will be able to afford little
assistance; because they themselves will feel a full share of the
pressure. They will not be in a condition to extend their discounts,
but, in all probability, obliged to curtail them. Whence, then, are the
means to come for paying this debt? and in what medium is payment to be
made? If all this may be done with but slight pressure on the community,
what course of conduct is to accomplish it? How is it to be done? What
other thirty millions are to supply the place of these thirty millions
now to be called in? What other circulation or medium of payment is to
be adopted in the place of the bills of the bank? The message, following
a singular train of argument, which had been used in this house, has a
loud lamentation upon the suffering of the Western States on account of
their being obliged to pay even interest on this debt. This payment of
interest is itself represented as exhausting their means and ruinous to
their prosperity. But if the interest cannot be paid without pressure,
can both interest and principal be paid in four years without pressure?
The truth is, the interest has been paid, is paid, and may continue to
be paid, without any pressure at all; because the money borrowed is
profitably employed by those who borrow it, and the rate of interest
which they pay is at least two per cent lower than the actual value of
money in that part of the country. But to pay the whole principal in
less than four years, losing, at the same time, the existing and
accustomed means and facilities of payment created by the bank itself,
and to do this without extreme embarrassment, without absolute distress,
is, in my judgment, impossible. I hesitate not to say, that, as this
_veto_ travels to the West, it will depreciate the value of every man's
property from the Atlantic States to the capital of Missouri. Its
effects will be felt in the price of lands, the great and leading
article of Western property, in the price of crops, in the products of
labor, in the repression of enterprise, and in embarrassment to every
kind of business and occupation. I state this opinion strongly, because
I have no doubt of its truth, and am willing its correctness should be
judged by the event. Without personal acquaintance with the Western
States, I know enough of their condition to be satisfied that what I
have predicted must happen. The people of the West are rich, but their
riches consist in their immense quantities of excellent land, in the
products of these lands, and in their spirit of enterprise. The actual
value of money, or rate of interest, with them is high, because their
pecuniary capital bears little proportion to their landed interest. At
an average rate, money is not worth less than eight per cent per annum
throughout the whole Western country, notwithstanding that it has now a
loan or an advance from the bank of thirty millions, at six per cent. To
call in this loan, at the rate of eight millions a year, in addition to
the interest on the whole, and to take away, at the same time, that
circulation which constitutes so great a portion of the medium of
payment throughout that whole region, is an operation, which, however
wisely conducted, cannot but inflict a blow on the community of
tremendous force and frightful consequences. The thing cannot be done
without distress, bankruptcy, and ruin, to many. If the President had
seen any practical manner in which this change might be effected without
producing these consequences, he would have rendered infinite service to
the community by pointing it out. But he has pointed out nothing, he has
suggested nothing; he contents himself with saying, without giving any
reason, that, if the pressure be heavy, the fault will be the bank's. I
hope this is not merely an attempt to forestall opinion, and to throw on
the bank the responsibility of those evils which threaten the country,
for the sake of removing it from himself.

The responsibility justly lies with him, and there it ought to remain. A
great majority of the people are satisfied with the bank as it is, and
desirous that it should be continued. They wished no change. The
strength of this public sentiment has carried the bill through Congress,
against all the influence of the administration, and all the power of
organized party. But the President has undertaken, on his own
responsibility, to arrest the measure, by refusing his assent to the
bill. He is answerable for the consequences, therefore, which
necessarily follow the change which the expiration of the bank charter
may produce; and if these consequences shall prove disastrous, they can
fairly be ascribed to his policy only, and the policy of his

Although, Sir, I have spoken of the effects of this _veto_ in the
Western country, it has not been because I considered that part of the
United States exclusively affected by it. Some of the Atlantic States
may feel its consequences, perhaps, as sensibly as those of the West,
though not for the same reasons. The concern manifested by Pennsylvania
for the renewal of the charter shows her sense of the importance of the
bank to her own interest, and that of the nation. That great and
enterprising State has entered into an extensive system of internal
improvements, which necessarily makes heavy demands on her credit and
her resources; and by the sound and acceptable currency which the bank
affords, by the stability which it gives to private credit, and by
occasional advances, made in anticipation of her revenues, and in aid of
her great objects, she has found herself benefited, doubtless, in no
inconsiderable degree. Her legislature has instructed her Senators here
to advocate the renewal of the charter, at this session. They have
obeyed her voice, and yet they have the misfortune to find that, in the
judgment of the President, _the measure is unconstitutional,
unnecessary, dangerous to liberty, and is, moreover, ill-timed_.

But, Mr. President, it is not the local interest of the West, nor the
particular interest of Pennsylvania, or any other State, which has
influenced Congress in passing this bill. It has been governed by a wise
foresight, and by a desire to avoid embarrassment in the pecuniary
concerns of the country, to secure the safe collection and convenient
transmission of public moneys, to maintain the circulation of the
country, sound and safe as it now happily is, against the possible
effects of a wild spirit of speculation. Finding the bank highly useful,
Congress has thought fit to provide for its continuance.

As to the _time_ of passing this bill, it would seem to be the last
thing to be thought of, as a ground of objection, by the President;
since, from the date of his first message to the present time, he has
never failed to call our attention to the subject with all possible
apparent earnestness. So early as December, 1829, in his message to the
two houses, he declares, that he "cannot, in justice to the parties
interested, too soon present the subject to the deliberate consideration
of the legislature, in order to avoid the evils resulting from
precipitancy, in a measure involving such important principles and such
deep pecuniary interests." Aware of this early invitation given to
Congress to take up the subject, by the President himself, the writer of
the message seems to vary the ground of objection, and, instead of
complaining that the time of bringing forward this measure was
premature, to insist, rather, that, after the report of the committee of
the other house, the bank should have withdrawn its application for the
present! But that report offers no just ground, surely, for such
withdrawal. The subject was before Congress; it was for Congress to
decide upon it, with all the light shed by the report; and the question
of postponement, having been made in both houses, was lost, by clear
majorities, in each. Under such circumstances, it would have been
somewhat singular, to say the least, if the bank itself had withdrawn
its application. It is indeed known to everybody, that neither the
report of the committee, nor any thing contained in that report, was
relied on by the opposers of the renewal. If it has been discovered
elsewhere, that that report contained matter important in itself, or
which should have led to further inquiry, this may be proof of superior
sagacity; for certainly no such thing was discerned by either house of

But, Sir, do we not now see that it was time, and high time, to press
this bill, and to send it to the President? Does not the event teach us,
that the measure was not brought forward one moment too early? The time
had come when the people wished to know the decision of the
administration on the question of the bank? Why conceal it, or postpone
its declaration? Why, as in regard to the tariff, give out one set of
opinions for the North, and another for the South?

An important election is at hand, and the renewal of the bank charter is
a pending object of great interest, and some excitement. Should not the
opinions of men high in office, and candidates for re-election, be
known on this, as on other important public questions? Certainly, it is
to be hoped that the people of the United States are not yet mere
man-worshippers, that they do not choose their rulers without some
regard to their political principles, or political opinions. Were they
to do this, it would be to subject themselves voluntarily to the evils
which the hereditary transmission of power, independent of all personal
qualifications, inflicts on other nations. They will judge their public
servants by their acts, and continue or withhold their confidence, as
they shall think it merited, or as they shall think it forfeited. In
every point of view, therefore, the moment had arrived, when it became
the duty of Congress to come to a result, in regard to this highly
important measure. The interests of the government, the interests of the
people, the clear and indisputable voice of public opinion, all called
upon Congress to act without further loss of time. It has acted, and its
act has been negatived by the President; and this result of the
proceedings here places the question, with all its connections and all
its incidents, fully before the people.

Before proceeding to the constitutional question, there are some other
topics, treated in the message, which ought to be noticed. It commences
by an inflamed statement of what it calls the "favor" bestowed upon the
original bank by the government, or, indeed, as it is phrased, the
"monopoly of its favor and support"; and through the whole message all
possible changes are rung on the "gratuity," the "exclusive privileges,"
and "monopoly," of the bank charter. Now, Sir, the truth is, that the
powers conferred on the bank are such, and no others, as are usually
conferred on similar institutions. They constitute no monopoly, although
some of them are of necessity, and with propriety, exclusive privileges.
"The original act," says the message, "operated as a gratuity of many
millions to the stockholders." What fair foundation is there for this
remark? The stockholders received their charter, not gratuitously, but
for a valuable consideration in money, prescribed by Congress, and
actually paid. At some times the stock has been above _par_, at other
times below _par_, according to prudence in management, or according to
commercial occurrences. But if, by a judicious administration of its
affairs, it had kept its stock always above _par_, what pretence would
there be, nevertheless, for saying that such augmentation of its value
was a "gratuity" from government? The message proceeds to declare, that
the present act proposes another donation, another gratuity, to the same
men, of at least seven millions more. It seems to me that this is an
extraordinary statement, and an extraordinary style of argument, for
such a subject and on such an occasion. In the first place, the facts
are all assumed; they are taken for true without evidence. There are no
proofs that any benefit to that amount will accrue to the stockholders,
nor any experience to justify the expectation of it. It rests on random
estimates, or mere conjecture. But suppose the continuance of the
charter should prove beneficial to the stockholders; do they not pay for
it? They give twice as much for a charter of fifteen years, as was given
before for one of twenty. And if the proposed _bonus_, or premium, be
not, in the President's judgment, large enough, would he, nevertheless,
on such a mere matter of opinion as that, negative the whole bill? May
not Congress be trusted to decide even on such a subject as the amount
of the money premium to be received by government for a charter of this

But, Sir, there is a larger and a much more just view of this subject.
The bill was not passed for the purpose of benefiting the present
stockholders. Their benefit, if any, is incidental and collateral. Nor
was it passed on any idea that they had a _right_ to a renewed charter,
although the message argues against such right, as if it had been
somewhere set up and asserted. No such right has been asserted by
anybody. Congress passed the bill, not as a bounty or a favor to the
present stockholders, nor to comply with any demand of right on their
part; but to promote great public interests, for great public objects.
Every bank must have some stockholders, unless it be such a bank as the
President has recommended, and in regard to which he seems not likely to
find much concurrence of other men's opinions; and if the stockholders,
whoever they may be, conduct the affairs of the bank prudently, the
expectation is always, of course, that they will make it profitable to
themselves, as well as useful to the public. If a bank charter is not to
be granted, because, to some extent, it may be profitable to the
stockholders, no charter can be granted. The objection lies against all

Sir, the object aimed at by such institutions is to connect the public
safety and convenience with private interests. It has been found by
experience, that banks are safest under private management, and that
government banks are among the most dangerous of all inventions. Now,
Sir, the whole drift of the message is to reverse the settled judgment
of all the civilized world, and to set up government banks, independent
of private interest or private control. For this purpose the message
labors, even beyond the measure of all its other labors, to create
jealousies and prejudices, on the ground of the alleged benefit which
individuals will derive from the renewal of this charter. Much less
effort is made to show that government, or the public, will be injured
by the bill, than that individuals will profit by it. Following up the
impulses of the same spirit, the message goes on gravely to allege, that
the act, as passed by Congress, proposes to make a _present_ of some
millions of dollars to foreigners, because a portion of the stock is
held by foreigners. Sir, how would this sort of argument apply to other
cases? The President has shown himself not only willing, but anxious, to
pay off the three per cent stock of the United States at _par_,
notwithstanding that it is notorious that foreigners are owners of the
greater part of it. Why should he not call that a donation to foreigners
of many millions?

I will not dwell particularly on this part of the message. Its tone and
its arguments are all in the same strain. It speaks of the certain gain
of the present stockholders, of the value of the monopoly; it says that
all monopolies are granted at the expense of the public; that the many
millions which this bill bestows on the stockholders come out of the
earnings of the people; that, if government sells monopolies, it ought
to sell them in open market; that it is an erroneous idea, that the
present stockholders have a prescriptive right either to the favor or
the bounty of government; that the stock is in the hands of a few, and
that the whole American people are excluded from competition in the
purchase of the monopoly. To all this I say, again, that much of it is
assumption without proof; much of it is an argument against that which
nobody has maintained or asserted; and the rest of it would be equally
strong against any charter, at any time. These objections existed in
their full strength, whatever that was, against the first bank. They
existed, in like manner, against the present bank at its creation, and
will always exist against all banks. Indeed, all the fault found with
the bill now before us is, that it proposes to continue the bank
substantially as it now exists. "All the objectionable principles of the
existing corporation," says the message, "and most of its odious
features, are retained without alleviation"; so that the message is
aimed against the bank, as it has existed from the first, and against
any and all others resembling it in its general features.

Allow me, now, Sir, to take notice of an argument founded on the
practical operation of the bank. That argument is this. Little of the
stock of the bank is held in the West, the capital being chiefly owned
by citizens of the Southern and Eastern States, and by foreigners. But
the Western and Southwestern States owe the bank a heavy debt, so heavy
that the interest amounts to a million six hundred thousand a year. This
interest is carried to the Eastern States, or to Europe, annually, and
its payment is a burden on the people of the West, and a drain of their
currency, which no country can bear without inconvenience and distress.
The true character and the whole value of this argument are manifest by
the mere statement of it. The people of the West are, from their
situation, necessarily large borrowers. They need money, capital, and
they borrow it, because they can derive a benefit from its use, much
beyond the interest which they pay. They borrow at six per cent of the
bank, although the value of money with them is at least as high as
eight. Nevertheless, although they borrow at this low rate of interest,
and although they use all they borrow thus profitably, yet they cannot
pay the interest without "inconvenience and distress"; and then, Sir,
follows the logical conclusion, that, although they cannot pay even the
interest without inconvenience and distress, yet less than four years is
ample time for the bank to call in the whole, both principal and
interest, without causing more than a light pressure. This is the

Then follows another, which may be thus stated. It is competent to the
States to tax the property of their citizens vested in the stock of this
bank; but the power is denied of taxing the stock of foreigners;
therefore the stock will be worth ten or fifteen per cent more to
foreigners than to residents, and will of course inevitably leave the
country, and make the American people debtors to aliens in nearly the
whole amount due the bank, and send across the Atlantic from two to five
millions of specie every year, to pay the bank dividends.

Mr. President, arguments like these might be more readily disposed of,
were it not that the high and official source from which they proceed
imposes the necessity of treating them with respect. In the first place,
it may safely be denied that the stock of the bank is any more valuable
to foreigners than to our own citizens, or an object of greater desire
to them, except in so far as capital may be more abundant in the foreign
country, and therefore its owners more in want of opportunity of
investment. The foreign stockholder enjoys no exemption from taxation.
He is, of course, taxed by his own government for his incomes, derived
from this as well as other property; and this is a full answer to the
whole statement. But it may be added, in the second place, that it is
not the practice of civilized states to tax the property of foreigners
under such circumstances. Do we tax, or did we ever tax, the foreign
holders of our public debt? Does Pennsylvania, New York, or Ohio tax the
foreign holders of stock in the loans contracted by either of these
States? Certainly not. Sir, I must confess I had little expected to see,
on such an occasion as the present, a labored and repeated attempt to
produce an impression on the public opinion unfavorable to the bank,
from the circumstance that foreigners are among its stockholders. I have
no hesitation in saying, that I deem such a train of remark as the
message contains on this point, coming from the President of the United
States, to be injurious to the credit and character of the country
abroad; because it manifests a jealousy, a lurking disposition not to
respect the property, of foreigners invited hither by our own laws. And,
Sir, what is its tendency but to excite this jealousy, and create
groundless prejudices?

From the commencement of the government, it has been thought desirable
to invite, rather than to repel, the introduction of foreign capital.
Our stocks have all been open to foreign subscriptions; and the State
banks, in like manner, are free to foreign ownership. Whatever State has
created a debt has been willing that foreigners should become
purchasers, and desirous of it. How long is it, Sir, since Congress
itself passed a law vesting new powers in the President of the United
States over the cities in this District, for the very purpose of
increasing their credit abroad, the better to enable them to borrow
money to pay their subscriptions to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal? It is
easy to say that there is danger to liberty, danger to independence, in
a bank open to foreign stockholders, because it is easy to say any
thing. But neither reason nor experience proves any such danger. The
foreign stockholder cannot be a director. He has no voice even in the
choice of directors. His money is placed entirely in the management of
the directors appointed by the President and Senate and by the American
stockholders. So far as there is dependence or influence either way, it
is to the disadvantage of the foreign stockholder. He has parted with
the control over his own property, instead of exercising control over
the property or over the actions of others. And, Sir, let it now be
added, in further answer to this class of objections, that experience
has abundantly confuted them all. This government has existed
forty-three years, and has maintained, in full being and operation, a
bank, such as is now proposed to be renewed, for thirty-six years out of
the forty-three. We have never for a moment had a bank not subject to
every one of these objections. Always, foreigners might be stockholders;
always, foreign stock has been exempt from State taxation, as much as at
present; always, the same power and privileges; always, all that which
is now called a "monopoly," a "gratuity," a "present," have been
possessed by the bank. And yet there has been found no danger to
liberty, no introduction of foreign influence, and no accumulation of
irresponsible power in a few hands. I cannot but hope, therefore, that
the people of the United States will not now yield up their judgment to
those notions which would reverse all our best experience, and persuade
us to discontinue a useful institution from the influence of vague and
unfounded declamation against its danger to the public liberties. Our
liberties, indeed, must stand upon very frail foundations, if the
government cannot, without endangering them, avail itself of those
common facilities, in the collection of its revenues and the management
of its finances, which all other governments, in commercial countries,
find useful and necessary.

In order to justify its alarm for the security of our independence, the
message supposes a case. It supposes that the bank should pass
principally into the hands of the subjects of a foreign country, and
that we should be involved in war with that country, and then it
exclaims, "What would be our condition?" Why, Sir, it is plain that all
the advantages would be on our side. The bank would still be our
institution, subject to our own laws, and all its directors elected by
ourselves; and our means would be enhanced, not by the confiscation and
plunder, but by the proper use, of the foreign capital in our hands.
And, Sir, it is singular enough that this very state of war, from which
this argument against a bank is drawn, is the very thing which, more
than all others, convinced the country and the government of the
necessity of a national bank. So much was the want of such an
institution felt in the late war, that the subject engaged the attention
of Congress, constantly, from the declaration of that war down to the
time when the existing bank was actually established; so that in this
respect, as well as in others, the argument of the message is directly
opposed to the whole experience of the government, and to the general
and long-settled convictions of the country.

I now proceed, Sir, to a few remarks upon the President's constitutional
objections to the bank; and I cannot forbear to say, in regard to them,
that he appears to me to have assumed very extraordinary grounds of
reasoning. He denies that the constitutionality of the bank is a settled
question. If it be not, will it ever become so, or what disputed
question ever can be settled? I have already observed, that for
thirty-six years out of the forty-three during which the government has
been in being, a bank has existed, such as is now proposed to be

As early as 1791, after great deliberation, the first bank charter was
passed by Congress, and approved by President Washington. It established
an institution, resembling, in all things now objected to, the present
bank. That bank, like this, could take lands in payment of its debts;
that charter, like the present, gave the States no power of taxation; it
allowed foreigners to hold stock; it restrained Congress from creating
other banks. It gave also exclusive privileges, and in all particulars
it was, according to the doctrine of the message, as objectionable as
that now existing. That bank continued twenty years. In 1816, the
present institution was established, and has been ever since in full
operation. Now, Sir, the question of the power of Congress to create
such institutions has been contested in every manner known to our
Constitution and laws. The forms of the government furnish no new mode
in which to try this question. It has been discussed over and over
again, in Congress; it has been argued and solemnly adjudged in the
Supreme Court; every President, except the present, has considered it a
settled question; many of the State legislatures have instructed their
Senators to vote for the bank; the tribunals of the States, in every
instance, have supported its constitutionality; and, beyond all doubt
and dispute, the general public opinion of the country has at all times
given, and does now give, its full sanction and approbation to the
exercise of this power, as being a constitutional power. There has been
no opinion questioning the power expressed or intimated, at any time, by
either house of Congress, by any President, or by any respectable
judicial tribunal. Now, Sir, if this practice of near forty years, if
these repeated exercises of the power, if this solemn adjudication of
the Supreme Court, with the concurrence and approbation of public
opinion, do not settle the question, how is any question ever to be
settled, about which any one may choose to raise a doubt?

The argument of the message upon the Congressional precedents is either
a bold and gross fallacy, or else it is an assertion without proofs, and
against known facts. The message admits, that, in 1791, Congress decided
in favor of a bank; but it adds, that another Congress, in 1811, decided
against it. Now, if it be meant that, in 1811, Congress decided against
the bank on constitutional ground, then the assertion is wholly
incorrect, and against notorious fact. It is perfectly well known, that
many members, in both houses, voted against the bank in 1811, who had no
doubt at all of the constitutional power of Congress. They were entirely
governed by other reasons given at the time. I appeal, Sir, to the
honorable member from Maryland, who was then a member of the Senate, and
voted against the bank, whether he, and others who were on the same
side, did not give those votes on other well-known grounds, and not at
all on constitutional ground?

General Smith here rose, and said, that he voted against the bank
in 1811, but not at all on constitutional grounds, and had no doubt
such was the case with other members.

We all know, Sir, the fact to be as the gentleman from Maryland has
stated it. Every man who recollects, or who has read, the political
occurrences of that day, knows it. Therefore, if the message intends to
say, that in 1811 Congress denied the existence of any such
constitutional power, the declaration is unwarranted, and altogether at
variance with the facts. If, on the other hand, it only intends to say,
that Congress decided against the proposition then before it on some
other grounds, then it alleges that which is nothing at all to the
purpose. The argument, then, either assumes for truth that which is not
true, or else the whole statement is immaterial and futile.

But whatever value others may attach to this argument, the message
thinks so highly of it, that it proceeds to repeat it. "One Congress,"
it says, "in 1815, decided against a bank, another, in 1816, decided in
its favor. There is nothing in precedent, therefore, which, if its
authority were admitted, ought to weigh in favor of the act before me."
Now, Sir, since it is known to the whole country, one cannot but wonder
how it should remain unknown to the President, that Congress _did not_
decide against a bank in 1815. On the contrary, that very Congress
passed a bill for erecting a bank, by very large majorities. In one
form, it is true, the bill failed in the House of Representatives; but
the vote was reconsidered, the bill recommitted, and finally passed by a
vote of one hundred and twenty to thirty-nine. There is, therefore, not
only no solid ground, but not even any plausible pretence, for the
assertion, that Congress in 1815 decided against the bank. That very
Congress passed a bill to create a bank, and its decision, therefore, is
precisely the other way, and is a direct practical precedent in favor of
the constitutional power. What are we to think of a constitutional
argument which deals in this way with historical facts? When the message
declares, as it does declare, that there is nothing in precedent which
ought to weigh in favor of the power, it sets at naught repeated acts of
Congress affirming the power, and it also states other acts, which were
in fact, and which are well known to have been, directly the reverse of
what the message represents them. There is not, Sir, the slightest
reason to think that any Senate or any House of Representatives, ever
assembled under the Constitution, contained a majority that doubted the
constitutional existence of the power of Congress to establish a bank.
Whenever the question has arisen, and has been decided, it has always
been decided one way. The legislative precedents all assert and maintain
the power; and these legislative precedents have been the law of the
land for almost forty years. They settle the construction of the
Constitution, and sanction the exercise of the power in question, so far
as these effects can ever be produced by any legislative precedents

But the President does not admit the authority of precedent. Sir, I have
always found, that those who habitually deny most vehemently the general
force of precedent, and assert most strongly the supremacy of private
opinion, are yet, of all men, most tenacious of that very authority of
precedent, whenever it happens to be in their favor. I beg leave to ask,
Sir, upon what ground, except that of precedent, and precedent alone,
the President's friends have placed his power of removal from office. No
such power is given by the Constitution, in terms, nor anywhere
intimated, throughout the whole of it; no paragraph or clause of that
instrument recognizes such a power. To say the least, it is as
questionable, and has been as often questioned, as the power of Congress
to create a bank; and, enlightened by what has passed under our own
observation, we now see that it is of all powers the most capable of
flagrant abuse. Now, Sir, I ask again, What becomes of this power, if
the authority of precedent be taken away? It has all along been denied
to exist; it is nowhere found in the Constitution; and its recent
exercise, or, to call things by their right names, its recent abuse,
has, more than any other single cause, rendered good men either cool in
their affections toward the government of their country, or doubtful of
its long continuance. Yet there is _precedent_ in favor of this power,
and the President exercises it. We know, Sir, that, without the aid of
that _precedent_, his acts could never have received the sanction of
this body, even at a time when his voice was somewhat more potential
here than it now is, or, as I trust, ever again will be. Does the
President, then, reject the authority of all precedent except what it is
suitable to his own purpose to use? And does he use, without stint or
measure, all precedents which may augment his own power, or gratify his
own wishes?

But if the President thinks lightly of the authority of Congress in
construing the Constitution, he thinks still more lightly of the
authority of the Supreme Court. He asserts a right of individual
judgment on constitutional questions, which is totally inconsistent with
any proper administration of the government, or any regular execution of
the laws. Social disorder, entire uncertainty in regard to individual
rights and individual duties, the cessation of legal anthority,
confusion, the dissolution of free government,--all these are the
inevitable consequences of the principles adopted by the message,
whenever they shall be carried to their full extent. Hitherto it has
been thought that the final decision of constitutional questions
belonged to the supreme judicial tribunal. The very nature of free
government, it has been supposed, enjoins this; and our Constitution,
moreover, has been understood so to provide, clearly and expressly. It
is true, that each branch of the legislature has an undoubted right, in
the exercise of its functions, to consider the constitutionality of a
law proposed to be passed. This is naturally a part of its duty; and
neither branch can be compelled to pass any law, or do any other act,
which it deems to be beyond the reach of its constitutional power. The
President has the same right, when a bill is presented for his approval;
for he is, doubtless, bound to consider, in all cases, whether such bill
be compatible with the Constitution, and whether he can approve it
consistently with his oath of office. But when a law has been passed by
Congress, and approved by the President, it is now no longer in the
power, either of the same President, or his successors, to say whether
the law is constitutional or not. He is not at liberty to disregard it;
he is not at liberty to feel or to affect "constitutional scruples," and
to sit in judgment himself on the validity of a statute of the
government, and to nullify it, if he so chooses. After a law has passed
through all the requisite forms; after it has received the requisite
legislative sanction and the executive approval, the question of its
constitutionality then becomes a judicial question, and a judicial
question alone. In the courts that question may be raised, argued, and
adjudged; it can be adjudged nowhere else.

The President is as much bound by the law as any private citizen, and
can no more contest its validity than any private citizen. He may refuse
to obey the law, and so may a private citizen; but both do it at their
own peril, and neither of them can settle the question of its validity.
The President may _say_ a law is unconstitutional, but he is not the
judge. Who is to decide that question? The judiciary alone possesses
this unquestionable and hitherto unquestioned right. The judiciary is
the constitutional tribunal of appeal for the citizens, against both
Congress and the executive, in regard to the constitutionality of laws.
It has this jurisdiction expressly conferred upon it, and when it has
decided the question, its judgment must, from the very nature of all
judgments that are final, and from which there is no appeal, be
conclusive. Hitherto, this opinion, and a correspondent practice, have
prevailed, in America, with all wise and considerate men. If it were
otherwise, there would be no government of laws; but we should all live
under the government, the rule, the caprices, of individuals. If we
depart from the observance of these salutary principles, the executive
power becomes at once purely despotic; for the President, if the
principle and the reasoning of the message be sound, may either execute
or not execute the laws of the land, according to his sovereign
pleasure. He may refuse to put into execution one law, pronounced valid
by all branches of the government, and yet execute another, which may
have been by constitutional authority pronounced void.

On the argument of the message, the President of the United States
holds, under a new pretence and a new name, a _dispensing power_ over
the laws as absolute as was claimed by James the Second of England, a
month before he was compelled to fly the kingdom. That which is now
claimed by the President is in truth nothing less, and nothing else,
than the old dispensing power asserted by the kings of England in the
worst of times; the very climax, indeed, of all the preposterous
pretensions of the Tudor and the Stuart races. According to the
doctrines put forth by the President, although Congress may have passed
a law, and although the Supreme Court may have pronounced it
constitutional, yet it is, nevertheless, no law at all, if he, in his
good pleasure, sees fit to deny it effect; in other words, to repeal
and annul it. Sir, no President and no public man ever before advanced
such doctrines in the face of the nation. There never before was a
moment in which any President would have been tolerated in asserting
such a claim to despotic power. After Congress has passed the law, and
after the Supreme Court has pronounced its judgment on the very point in
controversy, the President has set up his own private judgment against
its constitutional interpretation. It is to be remembered, Sir, that it
is the present law, it is the act of 1816, it is the present charter of
the bank, which the President pronounces to be unconstitutional. It is
no bank _to be created_, it is no law proposed to be passed, which he
denounces; it is the _law now existing_, passed by Congress, approved by
President Madison, and sanctioned by a solemn judgment of the Supreme
Court, which he now declares unconstitutional, and which, of course, so
far as it may depend on him, cannot be executed. If these opinions of
the President be maintained, there is an end of all law and all judicial
authority. Statutes are but recommendations, judgments no more than
opinions. Both are equally destitute of binding force. Such a universal
power as is now claimed for him, a power of judging over the laws and
over the decisions of the judiciary, is nothing else but pure despotism.
If conceded to him, it makes him at once what Louis the Fourteenth
proclaimed himself to be when he said, "I am the State."

The Supreme Court has unanimously declared and adjudged that the
existing bank _is_ created by a constitutional law of Congress. As has
been before observed, this bank, so far as the present question is
concerned, is like that which was established in 1791 by Washington, and

Book of the day: