« PreviousContinue »
loan of the public funds; the explosion of this system, and the adoption of one directly opposed to it, which rejected wholly the aid of the banks and denied the right of the government to employ the public funds for any but fiscal purposes; the executive menaces of war against France; the unsuccessful attempt of Mr. Van Buren's administration to carry on the government upon General Jackson's system; the panic of 1837, succeeded by the general uprising of the country and the universal demand for a change of men and measures, — these are the leading incidents in the chronicle of the period in question. Most of the events referred to are discussed in the following volumes. On some of them Mr. Webster put forth all his power. The questions pertaining to the construction of the Constitution, to the bank, to the veto power, to the currency, to the constitutionality of the tariff, to the right of removal from office, and to the finances, were discussed in almost every conceivable form, and with every variety of argument and illustration.
It has already been observed, that General Jackson was brought into power by a somewhat ill-compacted alliance between his original friends and a portion of the friends of the other candidates of 1824. As far as Mr. Calhoun and his followers were concerned, the cordiality of the union was gone before the inauguration of the new President. There was not only on the list of the cabinet to be appointed no adequate representative of the Vice-President, but his rival candidate for the succession (Mr. Van Buren) was placed at the head of the administration. There is reason to suppose that General Jackson, who, though his policy tended greatly to impair the strength of the Union, was in feeling a warm Unionist, witnessed with no dissatisfaction the result of the great constitutional debate and its influence upon the country.
But the effect of this debate on the friendly relations of Mr. Webster with the administration was in some degree neutralized by the incidents of the second session of fhe Twentyfirst Congress. Mr. Van Buren had retreated before the embarrassments of the position in which he found himself in the Department of State, and had accepted the mission to England. The instructions which he had given to Mr. McLane in 1829, in reference to the adjustment of the question relative to the colonial trade, were deemed highly objectionable by a ma
of the Senate, as bringing the relations of our domestic
parties to the notice of a foreign government, and founding upon a change of administration an argument for the concession of what was deemed and called "a boon" by the British government. In order to mark the spirit of these instructions with the disapprobation of the Senate, the nomination of Mr. Van Buren as Minister to England was negatived by a majority of that body. While the subject was under discussion, Mr. Clay, Mr. Webster, and Mr. Calhoun took the same view of this delicate question. It will be found treated in the speech of . Mr. Webster of the 24th of January, 1832, with all the gravity, temper, and moderation which its importance demanded.
In the Twenty-second Congress (the second of General Jackson's administration) the bank question became prominent. General Jackson had in his first message called the attention of Congress to the subject of the bank. No doubt of its constitutionality was then intimated by him. In the course of a year or two an attempt was made, on the part of the executive, to control the appointment of the officers of one of the Eastern branches. This attempt was resisted by the bank, and from that time forward a state of warfare, at first partially disguised, but finally open and flagrant, existed between the government and the directors of the institution. In the first session of the Twenty-second Congress (1831 —32), a bill was introduced by Mr. Dallas, and passed the two houses, to renew the charter of the bank. This measure was supported by Mr. Webster, on the ground of the importance of a national bank to the fiscal operations of the government, and to the currency, exchange, and general business of the country. No specific complaints of mismanagement had then been made, nor were any abuses alleged to exist. The bank was, almost without exception, popular at that time with the business interests of the country, and particularly at the South and West Its credit in England was solid; its bills and drafts on London took the place of specie for remittances to India and China. Its convenience and usefulness were recognized in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. McLane), at the same time that its constitutionality was questioned and its existence threatened by the President. So completely, however, was the policy of General Jackson's administration the impulse of his own feelings and individual impressions, and so imperfectly had these been disclosed on the present occasion, that the fate of the bill for rechartering the bank was a matter of uncertainty on the part both of adherents and opponents. Many persons on both sides of the two houses were taken by surprise by the veto. When the same question was to be decided by General Washington, he took the opinion in writing of every member of the Cabinet.
But events of a different complexion soon occurred, and gave a new direction to the thoughts of men throughout the country. The opposition of South Carolina to the protective policy had been pushed to a point of excitement at which it was beyond the control of party leaders. Although, as we have seen, that policy had in 1816 been established by the aid of distinguished statesmen of South Carolina, who saw in the success of American cotton manufactures a new market for the staple of the South, in which it would take the place of the cotton of India, the protective policy at a later period had come to be generally considered unconstitutional at the South. A change of opinion somewhat similar had taken place in New England, which had been originally opposed to this policy, as adverse to the commercial and navigating interests. Experience gradually showed that such was not the case. The enactment of the law of 1824 was considered as establishing the general principle of protection as the policy of the country. It was known to be the policy of the great central States. The capital of the North was to some extent forced into new channels. Some branches of manufactures flourished, as skill was acquired and improvements in machinery made. The coarse cotton fabrics which had enjoyed the protection of the minimum duty prospered, manufacturing villages grew up, the price of the fabric fell, and as competition increased the tariff did little more than protect the domestic manufacturer from fraudulent invoices and the fluctuation of foreign markets. Thus all parties were benefited, not excepting the South, which gained a new customer for her staple. These changes in the condition of things led Mr. Webster, as we have remarked in a former chapter, to modify his course on the tariff question.
Unfortunately, no manufactures had been established at the South. The vast quantities of new and fertile land opened in the west of Georgia, in Alabama, and Mississippi, injured the value of the old and partly exhausted lands of the Atlantic States. Labor was drawn off to found plantations in the new States, and the injurious consequences were ascribed to the tariff. Considerations of a political nature had entirely changed the tolerant feeling which, up to a certain period, had been shown by one class of Southern politicians toward the protective policy. With the exception of Louisiana, and one or two votes in Virginia, the whole South was united against the tariff. South Carolina had suffered most by the inability of her worn lands to sustain the competition with the lands of the Yazoo and the Red River, and to her the most active opposition, under the lead of Mr. Calhoun, was confined. The modern doctrine of nullification was broached by her accomplished statesmen, and an unsuccessful attempt made to deduce it from the Virginia resolutions of 1798. Mr. Madison, in a letter addressed to the writer of these pages,* in August, 1830, firmly resisted this attempt; and, as a theory, the whole doctrine of nullification was overthrown by Mr. Webster, in his speech of the 26th of January, 1830. But public sentiment had gone too far in South Carolina to be checked; party leaders were too deeply committed to retreat; and at the close of 1832 the ordinance of nullification was adopted by a State convention.
This decisive act roused the hero of New Orleans from the vigilant repose with which he had watched the coming storm. Confidential orders to hold themselves in readiness for active service were sent in every direction to the officers of the army and the navy. Prudent and resolute men were quietly stationed at the proper posts. Arms and munitions in abundance were held in readiness, and a chain of expresses in advance of the mail was established from the Capitol to Charleston. These preparations made, the Presidential proclamation of the llth of December, 1832, was issued. It was written by Mr. Edward Livingston, then Secretary of State, from notes furnished by General Jackson himself; but there is not an idea of importance in it which may not be found in Mr. Webster's speech on Foot's resolution.
The proclamation of the President was met by the counterproclamation of Governor Hayne; and the State of South Car
« North American Review, Vol. XXXI. p. 537.
olina proceeded to pass laws for carrying the ordinance of nullification into effect, and for putting the State into a condition to carry on war with the general government. In this posture of affairs the President of the United States laid the matter before Congress, in his message of the 16th of January, 1833, and the bill "further to provide for the collection of duties on imports" was introduced into the Senate, in pursuance of his recommendations. Mr. Calhoun was at this time a member of that body, having been chosen to succeed Governor Hayne, and having of course resigned the office of Vice-President. Thus called, for the first time, to sustain in person before the Senate and the country the policy of nullification, which had been adopted by South Carolina mainly under his influence, and which was now threatening the Union, it hardly need be said that he exerted all his ability, and put forth all his resources, in defence of the doctrine which had brought his State to the verge of revolution. It is but justice to add, that he met the occasion with equal courage and vigor. The bill "to make further provision for the collection of the revenue," or " Force Bill," as it was called, was reported by Mr. Wilkins from the Committee on the Judiciary on the 21st of January, and on the following day Mr. Calhoun moved a series of resolutions, affirming the right of a State to annul, as far as her citizens are concerned, any act of Congress which she may deem oppressive and unconstitutional. On the 15th and 16th of February, he spoke at length in opposition to the bill, and in development and support of his resolutions. On this occasion the doctrine of nullification was sustained by him with far greater ability than it had been by General Hayne, and in a speech which we believe is regarded as Mr. Calhoun's most powerful effort. In closing his speech, Mr. Calhoun challenged the opponents of his doctrines to disprove them, and warned them, in the concluding sentence, that the principles they might advance would be subjected to the revision of posterity.*
Mr. Webster, before Mr. Calhoun had resumed his seat, or he had risen from his own, accepted the challenge, and commenced his reply. He began to speak as he was rising, and continued to address the Senate with great force and effect, for about
* This passage does not appear in the report preserved in the volume containing his Select Speeches.