Page images

ought not to think of doing, everything in regard to revolutionary debts, which might be strictly right, if the whole settlement were now to be gone over anew. The honorable member from New York [Mr. Van Buren,] has stated, what I think the true ground of the bill. I regard it as an act of discreet and careful bounty, drawn forth by meritorious services, and by personal necessities. I cannot argue, in this case, with the technicality of my profession; and because I do not feel able to allow the claim on the ground of mere right, I am not willing, for that reason, to nonsuit the petitioners, as not having made out their case. Suppose we admit, as I do, that on the ground of mere right, it would not be safe to allow it; or, suppose that to be admitted for which others contend, that there is in the case no strict right upon which, under any circumstances, the claim could stand; still, it does not follow that there is no reasonable and proper foundation for it, or that it ought not to be granted. If it be not founded on strict right, it is not to be regarded as being, for that reason alone, an undeserved gratuity, or the effusion of mere good will. If that which is granted be not always granted on the ground of absolute right, it does not follow that it is granted from merely an arbitrary preference, or capricious beneficence. In most cases of this sort, mixed considerations prevail, and ought to prevail Some consideration is due to the claim of right; much to that of merit and service; and more to that of personal necessity. If I knew that all the persons to be benefited by this bill were in circumstances of comfort and competency, I should not support it. But this I know to be otherwise. I cannot dwell with propriety, or delicacy, on this part of the case; but I feel its force, and I yield to it. A single instance of affluence, or a few cases where want does not tread close on those who are themselves treading close on the borders of the grave, does not affect the general propriety and necessity of the measure. I would not draw this reason for the bill into too much prominence. We all know it exists; and we may, I think, safely act upon it, without so discussing it as to wound, in old, but sensitive, and still throbbing bosoms, feelings which education inspired, the habits of military life cherished, and a just self-respect is still desirous to entertain. I confess I meet this claim, not only with a desire to do something in favor of these officers, but to do it in a manner indicative not only of decorum but of deep respect, that respect which years, age, public service, patriotism, and broken fortune, command to spring up in every manly breast.

It is, then, sir, a mixed claim, of faith and public gratitude; of justice and honorable bounty; of merit and benevolence. It stands on the same foundation as that grant, which no one regrets, of which all are proud, made to the illustrious foreigner, who showed himself so early, and has proved himself so constantly, and zealously, a friend to our country.

But then, again, it is objected, that the militia have a claim upon us; that they fought at the side of the regular soldiers, and ought to share in the country's remembrance. It is known to be impossible, to carry the measure to such an extent as to embrace the militia; and it is plain, too, that the cases are different. The bill, as I have

already said, confines itself to those who served not occasionally, not temporarily, but permanently; who allowed themselves to be counted on as men who were to see the contest through, last as long as it might; and who have made the phrase, of “ 'listing during the war,” a proverbial expression, signifying unalterable devotion to our cause, through good fortune and ill fortune, till it reaches its close. This is a plain distinction; and although, perhaps, I might wish to do more, I see good ground to stop here, for the present, if we must stop anywhere. The militia who fought at Concord, at Lexington, and at Bunker's Hill, have been alluded to, in the course of this debate, in terms of well-deserved praise. Be assured, sir, there could with difficulty be found a man, who drew his sword, or carried his musket, at Concord, at Lexington, or Bunker's Hill, who would · wish you to reject this bill. They might ask you to do more; but never to refrain from doing this. Would to God they were assembled here, and had the fate of the bill in their own hands! Would to God, the question of its passage was to be put to them! They would affirm it, with a unity of acclamation that would rend the roof of the capitol.

I support the measure, then, Mr. President, because I think it a proper and judicious exercise of well-merited national bounty. I think, too, the general sentiment of my own constituents, and of the country, is in favor of it. I believe the member from North Carolina, himself, admitted, that an increasing desire, that something should be done for the revolutionary officers, manifested itself in the community. The bill will make no immediate or great draught on the treasury. It will not derange the finances. If I had supposed that the state of the treasury would have been urged against the passage of this bill, I should not have voted for the Delaware breakwater, because that might have been commenced next year; nor for the whole of the sums which have been granted for fortifications; for their advancement, with a little more or little less of rapidity, is not of the first necessity. But the present case is urgent. What we do, should be done quickly.

Mr. President, allow me to repeat, that neither the subject, nor the occasion, is an ordinary one. Our own fellow citizens do not so consider it; the world will not so regard it. A few deserving soldiers are before us, who served their country faithfully through a seven years' war. That war was a civil war. It was commenced on principle, and sustained by every sacrifice, on the great ground of civil liberty. They fought bravely, and bled freely. The cause succeeded, and the country triumphed. But the condition of things did not allow that country, sensible as it was to their services and merits, to do them the full justice which it desired. It couid det entirely fulfil its engagements. The army was to be disbanded; but it was unpaid. It was to lay down its own power; but there was no government with adequate power to perform what had been promised to it. In this critical moment, what is its conduct? Does it disgrace its high character? Is temptation able to seduce it? Does it speak of righting itself? Does it undertake to redress its own wrongs, by its own sword? Does it lose its patriotism in its deep

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

sense of injury and injustice? Does military ambition cause its integrity to swerve? Far, far otherwise.

It had faithfully served and saved the country; and to that country it now referred, with unhesitating confidence, its claim and its complaints. It laid down its arms with alacrity; it mingled itself with the mass of the community; and it waited till, in better times, and under a new government, its services might be rewarded, and the promises made to it fulfilled. Sir, this example is worth more, far more, to the cause of civil liberty, than this bill will cost us. We can hardly recur to it too often, or dwell on it too much, for the honor of our country, and of its defenders.

Allow me to say again, that meritorious service in civil war is worthy of peculiar consideration; not only because there is, in such war, usually less power to restrain irregularities, but because, also, they expose all prominent actors in them, to different kinds of danger. It is rebellion, as well as war. Those who engage in it must look not only to the dangers of the field, but to confiscation also, and attainder, and ignominious death. With no efficient and settled government, either to sustain or to control them, and with every sort of danger before them, it is great merit to have conducted with fidelity to the country, under every discouragement on the one hand, and with unconquerable bravery towards the common enemy on the other. So, sir, the officers and soldiers of the revolutionary army did conduct.

I would not, and do not underrate the services or the sufferings of others. I know well, that in the revolutionary contest, all made sacrifices, and all endured sufferings; as well those who paid for service, as those who performed it. I know, that, in the records of all the little municipalities of New England, abundant proof exists, of the zeal with which the cause was espoused, and the sacrifices with which it was cheerfully maintained. I have often there read, with absolute astonishment, the taxes, the contributions, the heavy subscriptions, often provided for by disposing of the absolute necessaries of life; by which enlistments were procured, and food and clothing furnished. It would be, sir, to these same municipalities, to these same little patriotic councils of revolutionary times, that I should now look, with most assured confidence, for a hearty support of what this bill proposes. There, the scale of revolutionary merit stands high. There are still those living, who speak of the 19th of April, and the 17th of June, without thinking it necessary to add the year. These men, one and all, would rejoice to find that those who stood by the country bravely, through the doubtful and perilous struggle which conducted it to independence and glory, had not been forgotten in the decline and close of life.

The objects, then, sir, of the proposed bounty, are most worthy and deserving objects. The services which they rendered, were in the highest degree useful and important. The country to which they rendered them, is great and prosperous. They have lived to see it glorious; let them not live to see it unkind. For me, I can give them but my vote, and my prayers; and I give them both with my whole heart.

and relieve the patience, now long and heavily taxed, of the Committee. But there is one part of the discussion, on which I must ask to be indulged with a few observations.

Pains, sir, have been taken by the honorable member from Virginia, to prove that the measure now in contemplation, and, indeed, the whole policy of the government respecting South America, is the unhappy result of the influence of a gentleman formerly filling the chair of this House. To make out this, he has referred to certain speeches of that gentleman delivered here. He charges him with having become himself affected at an early day with what he is pleased to call the South American fever; and with having infused its baneful influence into the whole councils of the country.

If, sir, it be true, that that gentleman, prompted by an ardent love of civil liberty, felt earlier than others, a proper sympathy for the struggling colonies of South America; or that, acting on the maxim, that revolutions do not go backward, he had the sagacity to foresee, earlier than others, the successful termination of those struggles; if, thus feeling, and thus perceiving, it fell to him to lead the willing or unwilling councils of his country, in her manifestations of kindness to the new governments, and in her seasonable recognition of their independence; if it be this which the honorable member imputes to him; if it be by this course of public conduct that he has identified his name with the cause of South American liberty, he ought to be esteemed one of the most fortunate men of the age. If all this be, as is now represented, he has acquired fame enough. It is enough for any man, thus to have connected himself with the greatest events of the age in which he lives, and to have been foremost in measures which reflect high honor on his country, in the judgment of mankind. Sir, it is always with great reluctance that I am drawn to speak, in my place here, of individuals; but I could not forbear what I have now said, when I hear, in the House of Representatives, and in this land of free spirits, that it is made matter of imputation and of reproach, to have been first to reach forth the hand of welcome and of succour to new-born nations, struggling to obtain, and to enjoy, the blessings of liberty.

We are told that the country is deluded and deceived by cabalistic words. Cabalistic words! If we express an emotion of pleasure at the results of this great action of the spirit of political liberty; if we rejoice at the birth of new Republican nations, and express our joy by the common terms of regard and sympathy; if we feel and signify high gratification that, throughout this whole continent, men are now likely to be blessed by free and popular institutions; and if, in the uttering of these sentiments, we happen to speak of sister Republics; of the great American family of nations; or of the political system and forms of government of this hemisphere, then indeed, it seems, we deal in senseless jargon, or impose on the judgment and feeling of the community by cabalistic words! Sir, what is meant by this? Is it intended that the People of the United States ought to be totally indifferent to the fortunes of these new neighbours? Is no change, in the lights in which we are to view them, to be wrought, by their having thrown off foreign dominion, establish

ed independence, and instituted, on our very borders, republican governments, essentially after our own example?

Sir, I do not wish to overrate, I do not overrate, the progress of these new States in the great work of establishing a well-secured popular liberty. I know that to be a great attainment, and I know they are but pupils in the school. But, thank God, they are in the school. They are called to meet difficulties, such as neither we nor our fathers encountered. For these, we ought to make large allowances. What have we ever known like the colonial vassalage of these States? When did we or our ancestors, feel, like them, the weight of a political despotism that presses men to the earth, or of that religious intolerance which would shut up heaven to all but the bigoted? Sir, we sprung from another stock. We belong to another race. We have known nothing-we have felt nothing of the political despotism of Spain, nor of the heat of her fires of intolerance. No rational man expects that the South can run the same rapid career as the North; or that an insurgent province of Spain is in the same condition as the English colonies, when they first asserted their independence. There is, doubtless, much more to be done, in the first than in the last case. But on that account the honor of the attempt is not less; and if all difficulties shall be in time surmounted, it will be greater. The work may be more arduous-it is not less noble, because there may be more of ignorance to enlighten; more of bigotry to subdue; more of prejudice to eradicate. If it be a weakness to feel a strong interest in the success of these great revolutions, I confess myself guilty of that weakness. If it be weak to feel that I am an American, to think that recent events have not only opened new modes of intercourse, but have created also new grounds of regard and sympathy between ourselves and our neighbours; if it be weak to feel that the South, in her present state, is somewhat more emphatically a part of America, than when she lay obscure, oppressed, and unknown, under the grinding bondage of a foreign power; if it be weak to rejoice, when, even in any corner of the earth, human beings are able to get up from beneath oppression, to erect themselves, and to enjoy the proper happiness of their intelligent nature; if this be weak, it is a weakness from which I claim no exemption.

A day of solemn retribution now visits the once proud monarchy of Spain. The prediction is fulfilled. The spirit of Montezuma and of the Incas might now well say,

"Art thon, too, fallen, Iberia? Do we see
The robber and the murderer weak as we?
Thou! that has wasted earth and dared despise
Alike the wrath and mercy of the skies,
Thy pomp is in the grave; thy glory laid
Low in the pit thine avarice has made."

Mr. Chairman: I will detain you only with one more reflection on this subject. We cannot be so blind-we cannot so shut up our senses, and smother our faculties, as not to see, that in the progress and the establishment of South American liberty, our own example has been among the most stimulating causes. In their emergen

« PreviousContinue »