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CATLIN'S INDIAN GALLERY.*
JUNE 25, 1862.
Mr. CatLin is an American citizen, who was born and educated in the state of Pennsylvania. Gifted with genius for the arts, and imbued with a spirit of enthusiastic devotion to the fame of his country, in early life, without either public or private patronage, he repaired to the haunts of the savages in the recesses of the continent, and winning their kindness and confidence, while as yet the white man was almost unknown to them, he visited, in the period of eight years, forty-eight tribes, and in the end, brought away this very large collection of paintings, which exhibits with great felicity, complete views of the most interesting forest and prairie scenes of the continent, with portraits of the various characters found there, and ample illustrations of the political, social, and religious customs, ceremonies, and costumes of the race-a collection which gratifies an enlightened curiosity now, and will, with the progress of time, acquire an inestimable value as an aid to the philosopher and historian in the study of human nature in a peculiar stage of development, never before sufficiently marked. Having completed his collection, Mr. Catlin, in 1837, exhibited it in this city, and in pursuance of his original purpose, offered it to Congress, who manifestly thought favorably of that proposition ; but delays occurred, and Mr. Catlin, without abandoning his wish for such an eventual disposition, took them to Europe, as well to support himself by exhibiting it, as to use it in preparing a great work, since completed, on the history, customs, and manners of the North American Indians. The collection excited much interest and admiration in Europe, and obtained for Mr. Catlin many marks of respect and consideration from the friends of science and the arts in foreign courts. While at Paris the American artists, then residing there, among whom were several whose fame has become a part of our national glory, addressed a memorial to Congress, praying them to adopt measures to restore the collection to our country, and to place it among her records. In support of this proposition, they remarked that the collection was not only interesting to our countrymen generally, but absolutely necessary to American artists; that the Italian who wished to portray the history of Rome found reminiscences of her sons in the Vatican; that the French artist could study the Gauls in the Museum of the Louvre; and that the Tower of London was rich in the armor and weapons of the Saxon race; and that, without such a collection, few of the glorious pages of our early history could be illustrated. The same view of the subject was taken by the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, to whom that interesting memorial was referred. More recently, a communication has been submitted to Congress, by several eminent members of the Historical Society of New York, recommending the purchase of the collection on substantially the same grounds. I concur in these opinions, and I add that, admitting the merit of the collection, which is conclusively established by documents now before the Senate, and admitting also the ability of the government to secure it, which cannot reasonably be denied, no argument can be brought against the purchase of it on just and reasonable terms, which would not equally weigh against every appropriation by Congress for the acquisition and preservation of the materials of science and of history; against the deposit of cotemporaneous works in the library of Congress; the illustration of grand and interesting events in the national progress on canvas and in marble, which grace the chambers, walls, and gardens of the capitol ; and, indeed, against all the treasures of science and art already gathered into the archives of the country. Copiousness is essential to the value of the instructions of history, and if we should attempt a discrimination between the various materials gathered for such a use, surely the last this great and generous people should exclude would be those that supply us scanty information concerning the heroic yet simple race whom, with a strong arm and little tenderness, we are expelling, and perhaps unavoidably exterminating, throughout the broad domain of which they once were undisturbed and unquestioned occupants.
* Remarks on the purchase of Catlin's Indian Collection.
To reject the cultivation and perfection of the arts altogether, would be to concede that in all that makes us differ from the savage tribes, we are neither better nor wiser than they. In all countries, and especially in a republic, the great responsibility of those who are charged with the conduct of the affairs of society, is the education of the people in valor, wisdom, and virtue. There is no point at which such education can be wisely arrested; since the more complete and universal education becomes, the more fully the democratic principle is developed, and the more safely and easily is free government sustained. While the responsibilities of education, in a strict sense, rest upon the several states, the right and duty of the United States to promote that great object incidentally, in the administration of the national domain, and in its exclusive legislation in the District of Columbia, have been fully acknowledged and practically exercised and performed since the foundation of the government. I invoke the performance of a similar duty now. Why should not the capital of the United States take on the classic dignity and the refinement worthy of the seat of government of a great people? How shall we better strengthen the bonds of our Union than by rendering the capital an object of pride and interest to the people of every state? How shall we impress mankind with the excellence of the republican system more cheaply and more effectually than by exhibiting to them the archives of art and science in this chosen seat of republican authority?
A letter recently received from Mr. Catlin brings the painful intelligence that he has sunk under the pressure of debts, and is now imprisoned, while his collection is advertised to be sold on execution in London. Under these circumstances, he reduces his price to the government from $65,000, its former estimated worth, to $25,000. While these unhappy circumstances furnish no sufficient ground for interposition by the government for his relief, they may, nevertheless, be allowed to stimulate us to the action recommended, if, as has been argued, it is wise and proper in itself. It is obvious that without a careful inspection of the collection, so as to ascertain its present condition and value, it would be unwise to name a definite price. The committee have therefore recommended wisely that the subject be intrusted to an agent, to be appointed by the President, with a limited discretion.
JULY 23, 18 52.
I SHALL vote with very great pleasure for the resolution of the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, (Mr. Mason.] I have read it with some care; and I perceive that it is limited to two objects—in the first place, a call for information in the possession of the executive branch of the government; and in the next place, for information as to whether that branch of the
govo ernment has resorted to any measures for the purpose
of exhibiting, on the part of the United States, an armed force in the waters which are the scene of the difficulties which have arisen. I see nothing improper in the calls made. While all of us feel the importance of the fisheries, on the north-eastern shores of the United States, it must also be admitted that there is no state-neither Maine, for which the Chairman of the Committee on Commerce [Mr. Hamlin) has spoken; nor Massachusetts, for which another senator [Mr. Davis] has given expression—that is more interested than my own in this question. It is very clear that there can be no collision of the forces, or of any portion of the forces, of Great Britain and the United States on the Bay of Fundy, or in the waters adjacent, which will not necessarily involve this whole country in the blaze of war; and if that event should arrive, there is no part of the Union that will be exempt from its calamities, and certainly that state which I, in part, represent, will be one of the first to be visited with its responsibilities and its disasters.
While, therefore, I see, and admit, the propriety of calling for this information; if it be true, as there seems to be no doubt that it is, that the British government has exhibited a force preliminary to negotiation, and while I think that the suggestion is a pertinent one that the government of the United States should be prepared with a corresponding force for the purpose of maintaining an attitude equally commanding and advantageous for negotiation ; while I think that this resolution, in itself, is not only harmless, but proper, I must deprecate, with the Senator from Massachusetts, [Mr. Davis) if I understood the spirit of his remarks correctly, any undue excitement on this subject.
It is a great and important question, and whether it is to be terminated, as I have no doubt it will be terminated, peacefully, or is to be terminated by a sterner arbitrament, it is very clear that it will be conducted most wisely and most safely on our part, if we keep cool during the present stage of the controversy; and I, for one, propose to keep myself in that temperament. Nor do I think that there is any thing extraordinary in newspaper accounts of the negotiation on this subject. We all know that the honorable and distinguished Secretary of State is accustomed, precisely at this season of the year, to resort to his native climate as a protection against that of this latitude, which is injurious to his health, and that he had resorted there before any of these questions had arisen. He is there recruiting his energies, and, therefore, I repeat that in the very moment we are inquiring whether a force has been sent, it is discourteous to the President, as it is unwise and imprudent, to bestow censure for not having done that which we imply that we suppose he may have done, or will yet do in good season.
On the whole, I see no necessity for any excitement on this subject. A war with Great Britain will be no trifling affair, and, as I said before, we shall go into either negotiation or war, and come out of it more safely, if we are to go into it, keeping cool and taking our time, and taking every advantage of circumstances which may arise. I need not say that when such an exigency comes, I shall be as well prepared to meet it, its responsibilities and its consequences, and to stand as long and firmly by the national rights and dignity as any one here or elsewhere.
This is either a grave question, or it is not. If it is a trivial one, time is only wasted in discussing it. If it is a serious one, it is worth while to know what we are disputing about. Now, we certainly are not disputing about this call for information, for we are unanimously in favor of that, so far as it is possible to ascertain from the sentiments expressed by gentlemen on this floor. Then the only question about which there is any dispute is,