« PreviousContinue »
like the republican party, and the obstacles it must encounter in laboring without prestige and without patronage. But, understanding all this, I know that the democratic party must go down, and that the republican party must rise into its place. The democratic party derived its strength, originally, from its adoption of the principles of equal and exact justice to all men. So long as it practised this principle faithfully, it was invulnerable. It became vulnerable when it renounced the principle, and since that time it has maintained itself, not by virtue of its own strength, or even of its traditional merits, but because there as yet had appeared in the political field no other party that had the conscience and the courage to take up, and avow, and practice the life-inspiring principle which the democratic party had surrendered. At last, the republican party has appeared. It avows, now, as the republican party of 1800 did, in one word, its faith and its works, “Equal and exact justice to all men.” Even when it first entered the field, only half organized, it struck a blow which only just failed to secure complete and triumphant victory. In this, its second campaign, it has already won advantages which render that triumph now both easy and certain.
The secret of its assured success lies in that very characteristic which, in the mouth of scoffers, constitutes its great and lasting imbecility and reproach. It lies in the fact that it is a party of one idea; but that idea is a noble one--an idea that fills and expands all generous souls; the idea of equality—the equality of all men before human tribunals and human laws, as they all are equal before the Divine tribunal and Divine laws.
I know, and you know, that a revolution has begun. I know, and all the world knows, that revolutions never go backward. Twenty senators and a hundred representatives proclaim boldly in congress to-day sentiments and opinions and principles of freedom which hardly so many men, even in this free state, dared to utter in their own homes twenty years ago. While the government of the United States, under the conduct of the democratic party, has been all that time surrendering one plain and castle after another to slavery, the people of the United States have been no less steadily and perseveringly gathering together the forces with which to recover back again all the fields and all the castles which have been lost, and to confound and overthrow, by one decisive blow, the betrayers of the constitution and freedom forever.
THE NATIONAL DIVERGENCE AND RETURN.
DETROIT, SEPTEMBER 4, 1860.
WE claim that our political system is a judicious one, and that we are an intelligent and virtuous people. The government ought therefore, not only to secure respect and good will abroad, but also to produce good order, contentment and harmony at home. It fails to attain these ends. The Canadians certainly neither envy nor love
All the independent American powers, from the Rio Grande to Cape Horn, while they strive to construct governments for themselves after our models, fear, and many of them hate us. European nations do indeed revere our constitutions and admire our progress, but they generally agree in pronouncing us inconsistent with our organic principle, and capricious. The president inveighs against corruption among the people. The immediate representatives of the people in congress charge the president with immoral practices, and the president protests against their action as subversive of the executive prerogative. The house of representatives organizes itself convulsively amid confessed dangers of popular commotion. The senate listens unsurprised, and almost without excitement, to menaces of violence, secession and disunion. Frauds and violence in the territories are palliated and rewarded. Exposure and resistance to them are condemned and punished, while the just, enlightened and reasonable will of the people there, though constitutionally expressed, is circumvented, disobeyed and disregarded. States watch anxiously for unlawful intrusion and invasion by citizens of other states, while the federal courts fail to suppress piracies on the high seas, and even
The government of the Union courts and submits to state espionage of the federal mails, while the states scarcely attempt to protect the personal rights of citizens of other states,
on our own coasts.
I This speech and the six following, were made by Mr. Seward during his tour through Michi gan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas, and came to be known as his "western speeches." See Memoir, ante, page 84.
peacefully pursuing harmless occupations within their fraternal jurisdictions.
Are the people satisfied and content? Let their several parties and masses answer. Certainly you, the republicans of Michigan, as well as the republicans throughout the whole country, are not satisfied. But you are interested in a change of administration, and therefore perhaps prejudiced. Ask, then, the constitutional Union men, few and inefficient indeed here, but numerous and energetic elsewhere. They are not satisfied. If they were they would not be engaged, as they are now, in a hopeless attempt to organize a new party without any principles at all, after their recent failures to combine such a party on obnoxious principles. But they also are interested and possibly prejudiced like the republicans. Appeal, then, to the democratic party, which enjoys and wields the patronage and power of the federal government. Even the democrats are no less dissatisfied. They certainly are dissatisfied with the republicans, with the national Union men, with their own administration, with each other, and as I think even individually, with themselves. The north is not satisfied. Its masses want a suppression of the African slave trade, and an effectual exclusion of slavery from the territories, so that all the new and future states may surely be free states. The south is not satisfied. Its masses, by whatever means and at what. ever cost, desire the establishment and protection of slavery in the territories, so that none of the new states may fail to become slave states. The east is discontented with the neglect of its fishery, manufacture and navigation, and the west is impatient under the operation of a national policy, hostile to its agricultural, mining and social developments. What government in the world but ours has persistently refused to improve rivers, construct harbors and establish light houses for the protection of its commerce ? New and anomalous combinations of citizens appear in the north, justifying armed instigators of civil and servile war, in the south devising means for the disruption and dismemberment of the Union. It is manifest that we are suffering in the respect and confidence of foreign states, and that disorder and confusion are more flagrant among ourselves now than ever before.
I do not intend to be understood that these evils are thus far productive of material suffering or intolerable embarrassment, much less that the country is, as so many extravagant persons say, on the high
road to civil war or dissolution. On the contrary, this fair land we live in is so blessed with all the elements of human comfort and happiness, and its citizens are at once so loyal and wise, and so well surrounded by yet unbroken guaranties of civil and religious liberty, that our experience of misrule at the very worst, never becomes so painful as to raise the question, how much more of public misery we can endure; but it leaves us at liberty to stop now, as always heretofore, with the inquiry, how much more of freedom, prosperity and honor we can secure by the practice of greater wisdom and higher virtue? Discontentment is the wholesome fruit of a discovery of maladministration, and conviction of public error is here at least always a sure harbinger of political reform.
Martin Van Buren, they say, is writing a review of his own life, and our time, for posthumous uses. If it is not disrespectful, I should like to know now the conclusions he draws from the national events he has seen, and of which he has been an important part; for he is a shrewd observer, with advantages of large and long experi
To me it seems that the last forty years have constituted a period of signal and lamentable failure in the efforts of statesmen to adjust and establish a federal policy for the regulation of the subject of slavery in its relations to the Union. In this view I regard it as belonging to the office of a statesman not merely to favor an immediate and temporary increase of national wealth, and an enlargement of national territory, but also to fortify, so far as the prescribed constitutional limits of his action may allow, the influences of knowledge and humanity; to abate popular prejudices and passions, by modifying or removing their causes; to ascertain and disclose the operation of general laws, and to study and reveal the social tendencies of the age, and by combining the past with the present, while giving free play all the time to the reciprocating action of the many coëxisting moral forces, to develop that harmonious system which actually prevails in the apparent chaos of human affairs; and so to gain something in the way of assurance as to the complexion of that futurity toward which, since our country is destined to endure, and insomuch as we desire that it may be immortal, our thoughts are so vehemently driven even by the selfish as well as by the generous principles of our
I have understood that John Quincy Adams, the purest and wisest statesman I ever knew, died despairing of a peaceful solution of the
problem of slavery, on which he was so intently engaged throughout his public service. If we may judge from the absolute failures of Mr. Van Buren, Mr. Polk, Mr. Pierce and Mr. Buchanan, in the respect I have mentioned, and if we take into consideration also the systems which Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Benton, Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster severally recommended, and which have subsequently failed to be adopted, we may perhaps conclude that the difficulties of establishing a satisfactory and soothing policy, have overtasked even our wisest and most eminent statesmen. They certainly have been neither incapable nor selfish men. No age or country has been illustrated by public characters of greater genius, wisdom and virtue.
It is easy to see, fellow citizens, that the failure has resulted, not from the faults of our statesmen, but from the peculiar constitutions and characters of political parties, on which they relied for power. Solid, enduring and constant parties, inspired by love of country, reverence for virtue and devotion to human liberty, bold in their conceptions of measures, moderate in success, and resolute throughout reverses, are essential to effective and beneficent administration in every free state. Unanimity, even in a wise, just and necessary policy, can never be expected in any country all at once, and without thorough debate and earnest conflicts of opinion. All public movements are therefore undertaken and prosecuted through the agencies, not of individuals, but of parties, regulated, excited and moderated, as occasion may require, by their representatives. He who proposes means so impracticable that he can win no party to their support, may be a philanthropist, but he cannot be a statesman; and even when the leader in administration is thus sustained, he is, although never so earnest or wise, everywhere and at all times inefficient and imbecile, just in the degree that the party on which he depends is inconstant, vacillating, timid or capricious. What has become of the several political parties which have flourished within your time and mine? That dashing, unterrified, defiant party, whose irresistible legions carried the honest and intrepid hero of New Orleans on their shields, through so many civil encounters—that generous, though not unprejudiced whig party, which, apprehensive of perpetual danger from too radical policies of administration, so often with unabated chivalry and enthusiasm, magically recombined its bruised and scattered columns, even when a capricious fortune had turned its rare and hard won triumphs into defeats more disastrous