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we shall readily acknowledge it to be a part of that great training, by which the country was prepared to take the station which she now occupies.
Mr. Webster was not a member of Congress when war was declared, nor in any other public station. He was too deeply read in the law of nations, and regarded that august code with too much respect, not to contemplate with indignation its infraction by both the belligerents. With respect to the Orders in Council, the highest judicial magistrate in England (Lord Chief Justice Campbell) has lately admitted that they were contrary to the law of nations.* As little doubt can exist that the French decrees were equally at variance with the public law. But however strong his convictions of this truth, Mr. Webster's sagacity and practical sense pointed out the inadequacy, and what may be called the political irrelevancy, of the restrictive system, as a measure of defence or retaliation. He could not but feel that it was a policy which tended at once to cripple the national resources, and abase the public sentiment, with an effect upon the foreign powers doubtful and at best indirect. In the state of the military resources of the country at that time, he discerned, in common with many independent men of all parties, that less was to be hoped from the attempted conquest of foreign territory, than from a gallant assault upon the fancied supremacy of the enemy at sea. It is unnecessary to state, that the whole course of the war confirmed the justice of these views. They furnish the key to Mr. Webster's course in the Thirteenth Congress.
Early in the session, he moved a series of resolutions of inquiry, relative to the repeal of the Berlin and Milan Decrees. The object of these resolutions was to elicit a communication on this subject from the executive, which would unfold the proximate causes of the war, as far as they were to be sought in those famous Decrees, and in the Orders in Council. On the 10th of June, 1813, Mr. Webster delivered his maiden speech on these resolutions. No full report of this speech has been preserved. It is known only from extremely imperfect sketches, contained in the contemporaneous newspaper accounts of the proceedings of Congress, from the recollection of those who heard
* Lives of the Chancellors, Vol. VII. p. 218; see also p. 301. Vol. i. d
it, and from general tradition. It was a calm and statesmanlike exposition of the objects of the resolutions; and was listened to with profound attention by the House. It was marked by all the characteristics of Mr. Webster's maturest parliamentary efforts, — moderation of tone, precision of statement, force of reasoning, absence of ambitious rhetoric and high-flown language, occasional bursts of true eloquence, and, pervading the whole, a genuine and fervid patriotism. We have reason to believe that its effect upon the House is accurately described in the following extract from Mr. March's work.
"The speech took the House by surprise, not so much from its eloquence as from the vast amount of historical knowledge and illustrative ability displayed in it. How a person, untrained to forensic contests and unused to public affairs, could exhibit so much parliamentary tact, such nice appreciation of the difficulties of a difficult question, and such quiet facility in surmounting them, puzzled the mind. The age and inexperience of the speaker had prepared the House for no such display, and astonishment for a time subdued the expression of its admiration.
": No member before,' says a person then in the House, ' ever riveted the attention of the House so closely, in his first speech. Members left their seats, where they could not see the speaker face to face, and sat down, or stood on the floor, fronting him. All listened attentively and silently, during the whole speech; and when it was over, many went up and warmly congratulated the orator; among whom were some, not the most niggard of their compliments, who most dissented from the views he had expressed.'
"Chief Justice Marshall, writing to a friend some time after this speech, says: 'At the time when this speech was delivered, I did not know Mr. Webster, but I was so much struck with it, that I did not hesitate then to state, that Mr. Webster was a very able man, and would become one of the very first statesmen in America, and perhaps the very first.'" —pp. 35, 36.*
The resolutions moved by Mr. Webster prevailed by a large majority, and drew forth from Mr. Monroe, then Secretary of State, an elaborate and instructive report upon the subject to which they referred.
* The friend to whom the letter referred to by Mr. March was written, was Mr. Justice Story, who adds: "Such praise from such a man ought to be very gratifying. Consider that he is now seventy-five years old, and that he speaks of his recollections of some eighteen years ago with a freshness which shows how deeply your reasoning impressed itself upon his mind. Keep this in memoriam rei."
We have already observed, that, as early as 1806, Mr. Webster had expressed himself in favor of the protection of our commerce against the aggressions of both the belligerents. Some years later, before the war was declared, but when it was visibly impending, he had put forth some vigorous articles to the same effect. In an oration delivered in 1812, he had said: "A navy sufficient for the defence of our coasts and harbors, for the convoy of important branches of our trade, and sufficient also to give our enemies to understand, when they injure us, that they too are vulnerable, and that we have the power of retaliation as well as of defence, seems to be the plain, necessary, indispensable policy of the nation. It is the dictate of nature and common sense, that means of defence shall have relation to the danger." In accordance with these views, first announced by Mr. Webster a considerable time before Hull, Decatur, and Bainbridge had broken the spell of British naval supremacy, he used the following language in his speech on encouraging enlistments in 1814: —
"The humble aid which it would be in my power to render to measures of government shall be given cheerfully, if government will pursue measures which I can conscientiously support. If even now, failing in an honest and sincere attempt to procure an honorable peace, it will return to measures of defence and protection, such as reason and common sense and the public opinion all call for, my vote shall not be withholden from the means. Give up your futile projects of invasion. Extinguish the fires which blaze on your inland frontiers. Establish perfect safety and defence there by adequate force. Let every man that sleeps on your soil sleep in security. Stop the blood that flows from the veins of unarmed yeomanry, and women and children. Give to the living time to bury and lament their dead, in the quietness of private sorrow. Having performed this work of beneficence and mercy on your inland border, turn and look with the eye of justice and compassion on your vast population along the coast. Unclench the iron grasp of your embargo. Take measures for that end before another sun sets upon you. With all the war of the enemy on your commerce, if you would cease to make war upon it yourselves, you would still have some commerce. That commerce would give you some revenue. Apply that revenue to the augmentation of your navy. That navy in turn will protect your commerce. Let it no longer be said, that not one ship of force, built by your hands since the war, yet floats upon the ocean. Turn the current of your efforts into the channel which national sentiment has already worn broad and deep to receive it. A naval force competent to defend your coasts against considerable armaments, to convoy your trade, and perhaps raise the blockade of your rivers, is not a chimera. It may be realized. If then the war must continue, go to the ocean. If you are seriously contending for maritime rights, go to the theatre where alone those rights can be defended. Thither every indi
cation of your fortune points you. There the united wishes and exertions of the nation will go with you. Even our party divisions, acrimonious as they are, cease at the water's edge. They are lost in attachment to the national character, on the element where that character is made respectable. In protecting naval interests by naval means, you will arm yourselves with the whole power of national sentiment, and may command the whole abundance of the national resources. In time you may be able to redress injuries in the place where they may be offered; and, if need be, to accompany your own flag throughout the world with the protection of your own cannon."
The principal subjects on which Mr. Webster addressed the House during the Thirteenth Congress were his own resolutions, the increase of the navy, the repeal of the embargo, and an appeal from the decision of the chair on a motion for the previous question. His speeches on those questions raised him to the front rank of debaters. He manifested upon his entrance into public life that variety of knowledge, familiarity with the history and traditions of the government, and self-possession on the floor, which in most cases are acquired by time and long experience. They gained for him the reputation indicated by the well-known remark of Mr. Lowndes, that "the North had not his equal, nor the South his superior." It was not the least conspicuous of the strongly marked qualities of his character as a public man, disclosed at this early period, and uniformly preserved throughout his career, that, at a time when party spirit went to great lengths, he never permitted himself to be infected with its contagion. His opinions were firmly maintained and boldly expressed; but without bitterness toward those who differed from him. He cultivated friendly relations on both sides of the House, and gained the personal respect even of those with whom he most differed.
In August, 1814, Mr. Webster was reflected to Congress. The treaty of Ghent, as is well known, was signed in December, 1814, and the prospect of peace, universally welcomed by the country, opened on the Thirteenth Congress toward the close of its third session. Earlier in the season a project for a Bank
of the United States was introduced into the House of Representatives on the recommendation of Mr. Dallas, Secretary of the Treasury. The charter of the first incorporated bank of the United States had expired in 1811. No general complaints of mismanagement or abuse had been raised against this institution; but the opinions entertained by what has been called the "Virginia School" of politicians, against the constitutionality of a national bank, prevented the renewal of the charter. The want of such an institution was severely felt in the war of 1812, although it is probable that the amount of assistance which it could have afforded the financial operations of the government was greatly overrated. Be this as it may, both the Treasury Department and Congress were now strongly disposed to create a bank. Its capital was to consist of forty-five millions of the public stocks and five millions of specie, and it was to be under obligation to lend the government thirty millions of dollars on demand. To enable it to exist under these "conditions, it was relieved from the necessity of redeeming its notes in specie. In other words, it was an arrangement for the issue of an irredeemable paper currency. It was opposed mainly on this ground by Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Webster, Mr. Lowndes, and others of the ablest men on both sides of the House, as a project not only unsound in its principles, but sure to increase the derangement of the currency already existing. The speech of Mr. Webster against the bill will be found in one of these volumes, and it will be generally admitted to display a mastery of the somewhat difficult subjects of banking and finance, rarely to be found in the debates in Congress. The project was supported as an administration measure, but the leading members from South Carolina and their friends united with the regular opposition against it, and it was lost by the casting vote of the Speaker, Mr. Cheves. It was revived by reconsideration, on motion of Mr. Webster, and such amendments introduced that it passed the House by a large majority. It was carried through the Senate in this amended form with difficulty, but it was negatived by Mr. Madison, being one of the two cases in which he exercised the veto power during his eight years' administration.
On the 8th of January of the year 1815, the victory at