Page images

correspondence. My letters were sought for, to learn if, in the confidence of private friendship, I had ever said any thing which an enemy could make use of. With this view, the vicinity of my former residence has been searched, as with a lighted candle. New Hampshire has been explored from the mouth of the Merrimack to the White Hills. In one instance, a gentleman had left the State, gone five hundred miles off', and died. His papers were examined; a letter was found, and, I have understood, it was brought to Washington; a conclave was held to consider it, and the result was, that, if there was nothing else against Mr. Webster, the matter had better be let alone. Sir, I hope to make every body of that opinion who brings against me a charge of want of patriotism. Errors of opinion can be found, doubtless, on many subjects ; but as conduct flows from the feelings which animate the heart, I know that no act of my life has had its origin in the want of ardent love of country."

This is the only occasion during the long political lives of these distinguished statesmen, begun nearly at the same time, and continued through a Congressional career which brought them of necessity much in contact with each other, in which there was any approach to personality in their keen encounters. In fact, of all the highly eminent public men of the day, they are the individuals who have made the least use of the favorite weapon of ordinary politicians, personality toward opponents. On the decease of Mr. Calhoun at Washington, in the spring of 1850, their uninterrupted friendly relations were alluded to by Mr. Webster in cordial and affecting terms. He regarded Mr. Calhoun as decidedly the ablest of the public men to whom he had been opposed in the course of his political life.

These kindly feelings on Mr. Webster's part were fully reciprocated by Mr. Calhoun. He is known to have declared on his death-bed, that, of all the public men of the day, there was no one whose political course had been more strongly marked by a strict regard to truth and honor than Mr. Webster's.

In the spring of 1839, Mr. Webster crossed the Atlantic for the first time in his life, making a hasty tour through England, Scotland, and France. His attention was particularly drawn to the agriculture of England and Scotland; to the great subjects of currency and exchange; to the condition of the laboring classes; and to the practical effect on the politics of Europe of the system of the Continental alliance. No traveller from this country has probably ever been received with equal attention in the highest quarters in England. Courtesies usually paid only to ambassadors and foreign ministers were extended to him. His table was covered with invitations to the seats of the nobility and gentry; and his company was eagerly sought at the public entertainments which took place while he was in the country. Among the distinguished individuals with whom he contracted intimate relations of friendship, the late Lord Ashburton may be particularly mentioned. A mutual regard of more than usual warmth arose between them. This circumstance was well understood in the higher circles of English society, and when, two years later, a change of administration in both countries brought the parties to which they were respectively attached into power, the friendly relations well known to exist between them were no doubt among the motives which led to the appointment of Lord Ashburton as special minister to the United States.

Toward that great political change which was consummated in 1840, by which General Harrison was raised to the Presidency, no individual probably in the country had contributed more largely than Mr. Webster; and this by powerful appeals to the reason of the people. His speeches had been for years a public armory, from which weapons both of attack and defence were furnished to his political friends throughout the Union. The financial policy of the two preceding administrations was the chief cause of the general discontent which prevailed; and it is doing no injustice to the other eminent leaders of opposition in the several States to say, that by none of them had the vices of this system from the first been so laboriously and effectively exposed as by Mr. Webster. During the canvass of 1840, the most strenuous ever witnessed in the United States, he gave himself up for months to what may literally be called the arduous labor of the field. These volumes exhibit the proof, that not only in Massachusetts, but in distant places, from Albany to Richmond, his voice of encouragement and exhortation was heard.

The event corresponded to the effort, and General Harrison was triumphantly elected.


Critical State of Foreign Affairs on the Accession of General Harrison. — Mr. Web ster appointed to the State Department.—Death of General Harrison. — Embarrassed Relations with England. — Formation of Sir Robert Peel's Ministry, and Appointment of Lord Ashbnrton as Special Minister to the United States. — Course pursued by Mr. Webster in the Negotiations. — The Northeastern Boundary.— Peculiar Difficulties in its Settlement happily overcome. — Other Subjects of Negotiation. — Extradition of Fugitives from Justice. — Suppression of the Slave-Trade on the Coast of Africa. — History of that Question. — Affair of the Caroline. — Impressment. — Other Subjects connected with the Foreign Relations of the Government. — Intercourse with China. — Independence of the Sandwich Islands. — Correspondence with Mexico. — Sound Duties and the Zoll-Verein. — Importance of Mr. Webster's Services as Secretary of State.

The condition of affairs in the United States, on the accession of President Harrison to office, in the spring of 1841, was difficult and critical, especially as far as the foreign relations of the country were concerned. Ancient and modern controversies existed with England, which seemed to defy adjustment. The great question of the northeastern boundary had been the subject of negotiation almost ever since the peace of 1783. Every effort to settle it had but increased the difficulties with which it was beset, by exhausting the expedients of diplomacy. The Oregon question was rapidly assuming a formidable aspect, as emigrants began to move into the country in dispute. Not less serious was the state of affairs on the southwestern frontier, where, although a collision with Mexico might not in itself be an event to be viewed with great anxiety, it was probable, as things then stood, that it would have brought a war with Great Britain in its train.

To the uneasiness necessarily growing out of these boundary questions, no little bitterness was added by more recent occurrences. The interruption of our vessels on the coast of Africa was a frequently recurring source of irritation. Great cause of complaint was sometimes given by boarding officers, acting on frivolous pretences or in a vexatious manner. At other times

* This chapter is republished, with but slight modifications, from the volume of Mr. Webster's Diplomatic and Official Papers which appeared in 1848, tc which it served as the Introduction.

the public feeling in the United States was excited by the exaggerations and misstatements of unworthy American citizens, who abused the flag of the country to cover a detestable traffic, which is made a capital felony by its laws. The affair of the "Caroline," followed by the arrest of McLeod, created a degree of discontent on both sides, which discussion had done nothing to remove, but much to exasperate. A crisis had arisen, which the Minister of the United States in London * deemed so serious, as to make it his duty to communicate with the commander of the American squadron in the Mediterranean.!

Such was the state of things when General Harrison acceded to the Presidency, after perhaps the most strenuously contested election ever known, and by a larger popular vote than had ever before been given in the United States. As soon as the result was known, the President elect addressed a letter to Mr. Webster, offering him any place he might choose in his Cabinet, and asking his advice as to the other members of which it should be composed. The wants and wishes of the country in reference to currency and finance having brought about the political revolution which placed General Harrison in the chair, he was rather desirous that the Department of the Treasury should be assumed by Mr. Webster, who had studied those subjects profoundly, and whose opinions were in full concurrence with his own. Averse to the daily drudgery of the Treasury, Mr. Webster gave his preference to the Department of State, without concealing from himself that it might be the post of greater care and responsibility. In this anticipation he was not disappointed. Although the whole of the danger did not at once appear, it was evident from the outset that the moment was extremely critical. Still, however, the circumstances under which General Harrison was elected were such as to give to his administration a moral power and a freedom of action, as to preexisting controversies, favorable to their settlement on honorable terms.

But the death of the new President, when just entering upon the discharge of his duties, changed the state of affairs in this respect. The great national party which had called him to the helm was struck with astonishment. No rallying-point pre

* Mr. Stevenson.

f Senate Papers, Twenty-seventh Congress, First Session, No. 33.

sented itself. A position of things existed, not overlooked, indeed, by the sagacious men who framed the Constitution, but which, from its very nature, can never enter practically into the calculations of the enthusiastic multitudes by which, in times of difficulty and excitement, a favorite candidate is borne to the chair. How much- of the control which it would otherwise have possessed over public opinion could be retained by an administration thus unexpectedly deprived of its head, was a question which time alone could settle. Happily, as far as our foreign relations were concerned, a character had been assumed by the administration, from the very formation of General Harrison's Cabinet, which was steadily maintained, till the adjustment of the most difficult points in controversy was effected by the treaty of Washington. President Harrison, as is well known, lived but one month after his inauguration, but all the members of his Cabinet remained in office under Mr. Tyler, who succeeded to the Presidency. With him, of course, rested the general authority of regulating and directing the negotiations with foreign powers, in which the government might be engaged. But the active management of these negotiations was in the hands of the Secretary of State, and it is believed that no difference of views in regard to important matters arose between him and Mr. Tyler. For the result of the principal negotiation, Mr. Tyler manifested great anxiety; and Mr. Webster has not failed, in public or private, to bear witness to the intelligent and earnest attention which was bestowed by him on the proceedings, through all their stages, and to express his sense of the confidence reposed in himself by the head of the administration, from the beginning to the end of the transactions.

If the position of things was difficult here, it was not less so on the other side of the Atlantic; indeed, many of the causes of embarrassment were common to the two countries. There, as here, the correspondence, whether conducted at Washington or London, had of late years done nothing toward an amicable settlement of the great questions at issue. It had degenerated into an exercise of diplomatic logic, with the effect, in England as well as in America, of strengthening each party in the belief of its own rights, and of working up the public mind to a reluctant feeling that the time was at hand when those rights

Vol. i. • k

« PreviousContinue »