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MR. WEBSTER AND HIS REVILERS.
[FROM THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCER OF APRIL 24, 1841.]
It is the practice of demagogues, in all free governments, to seek the direction of public opinion, by keeping alive old prejudices, or exciting new ones. In no country has this artifice been more freely or frequently resorted to than in our own, nor by any party in it so systematically and intolerantly as by that which has sprung up of late years, and assumed to itself the name of Democratic, but which, so far from possessing the elements of true and enlightened democracy, is imbued and guided by the very spirit of despotism. Let any man have labored as long or as signally as he may in support of the rights of his country, of the national prosperity, of the Constitution, and of public liberty,— let his whole career have been marked by public usefulness, and his patriotism be as unblemished as the sun, these shall all weigh as nothing in the scale, if he stand in the way of disappointed office-seekers, or of ambitious and aspiring partisans. Can nothing better be found to serve the ends of party rancor, he shall, though he be patriotism and purity personified, be hunted down and sacrificed, without scruple or remorse, to superannuated prejudices, or mere political abstractions. There is not one among the men whose names adorn the annals of our country, who has suffered more from this species of injustice than the present Secretary of State. This eminent citizen, whose name, in the most remote regions of the globe, sheds a lustre on the fame of his country, is at home assailed with all the malevolence of an intolerant faction, on the score of political incidents which took place before one half of our readers were born, and which, whatever were their merit, ought, after such a lapse of time, to be consid ered, upon any fair construction, as barred, by the statute of limitations, from any title to a place in political controversies of the present day. We had occasion to say the same thing not much more than six months ago, when an assault of this sort was made, and justly rebuked by public opinion, on the occasion of Mr. Webster's visit to the city of Richmond. Nor was it any new opinion of ours; for it was, upon an occasion which then offered, expressed with equal confidence six years ago, and has been entertained by us, with the same earnestness of conviction, more than twenty years gone by. It is preposterous to be ripping up any man's life for thirty or forty years, to discover whether, at some time or other, he has not differed in opinion from some other man or men who have long since gone down to the home of all the living.
Not, by any means, that we think that Mr. Webster has any thing to apprehend from a free and fair inquiry into the whole of his political life. On the contrary, we have no doubt he would court it. But what we do most decidedly object to is the falsification of history, the misstatement of facts, and the distorting and blurring of the face of such facts as are not wholly misrepresented.
These remarks are suggested by an article which we find in the New York Express of Wednesday last, the writer of which has taken the trouble to meet, and absolutely extinguish, the latest of these incendiary attempts upon the reputation of Mr. Webster. We have a very sensible pleasure in transferring the whole article to our columns. Here it is:
FROM THE NEW YORK EXPRESS OF APRIL 21.
MR. WEBSTER AND THE LAST WAR.
During the struggles of the last election, some parties appear to have explored the Journals of Congress, during the war with England, to find matter of accusation against Mr. Webster.
A letter was published [hereto subjoined] appearing to furnish the result of such examination. Whether this was fair or not, few people could judge, as few have either the means or the leisure of going through so many volumes of public proceedings, and seeing whether the real truth has been extracted or not.
But a friend of ours, in this city, having leisure sufficient, in these dull times, has prepared a statement, in answer to the charges in the letter aforesaid.
We now publish the letter and the statement, and, at the request of the writer, we publish part of Mr. Webster's speech, in reply to Mr. Calhoun, March 22, 1838.
We commend the consideration of these papers not only to the friends of the last Administration generally, but in an especial manner to Governor Polk, of Tennessee, who, by newspaper accounts, is already "on the stump," as the Western phrase is, for the next August election.
Instead of discussing subjects of present interest, the worthy and venerable Governor seems to rejoice in discussions relating to by-gone times. There appear to be two objects which most attract his Excellency's attention; one, to abuse Mr. Clay, who supported the war, and the other to abuse Mr. Webster, who, he says, opposed it.
We hope his Excellency will not omit some notice of the Berlin and Milan decrees, the affair of the Chesapeake, and that he will even take some notice of the quasi war with France.
The venerable Governor will see how important it is to enter into these matters, when the questions before the American people are, whether an
exhausted treasury shall be replenished, whether the country shall be defended, and whether any attempt shall be made, by giving a sound currency to the country, to revive business and confidence, and restore public and private credit.
THE LETTER, (referred TO ABOVE.)
"SIR: I herewith send you the vote of DANIEL WEBSTER, on several occasions, while a member of Congress during the war.
"1st. On the 7th of January, 1814, he voted against an appropriation for defraying the expenses of the navy.
"2d. On the 19th of January, 1814, he voted against a proposition more effectually to detect and punish traitors and spies.
"3d. On the 25th of March, he voted against the bill to call forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union and repel invasion.
"4th. On the 1st of December, only a few days before the sitting of the Hartford Convention, he voted against a bill to provide additional revenue for defraying the expenses of the Government, and maintaining the public credit.
"5th. On the 10th, he voted to postpone indefinitely a bill authorizing the President of the United States to call upon the several States for their respective quotas of militia to defend the frontier against invasion.
"6th. On the 13th, he voted against the same bill.
"7th. He also voted against a bill to provide additional revenue for the support of Government and the public credit, and also against an appropriation for rebuilding the Capitol, which had been destroyed by the enemy.
"The above is taken from the public records at Washington. I could give you more, but the above is enough. Such is the vote of a Tory, now called Whig. Sorry I am to find you in such company, with such a leader. [What follows is of a private nature.]
A true and exact statement of the case, in regard to each of these votes, as appears from the Journals and the printed debates.
The charges are:
I. "On the 7th of January, 1814, he voted against an appropriation for defraying the expenses of the navy."
This is exceedingly disingenuous, for two reasons:
1st. Because the matter is not accurately stated, nor the reason for the vote given, as that now appears in the debates. A bill had passed the House of Representatives, and without opposition, either on the question of its engrossment or the question of its final passage, “making partial appropriations for the service
of 1814." The Senate inserted, as an amendment, an appropriation of one million of dollars for the expenses of the navy. It was quite unusual, at that time, and indeed it is believed unprecedented, for the Senate to originate, by way of amendment, such large grants of money for the public service.
On this ground, alone, the amendment was opposed by some who had been the warmest friends of the navy from the time of General Washington. It was a question of the regularity of proceeding, a question of the order of business, merely. The record shows that Nathaniel Macon, and other Administration men, voted with Mr. Webster, on that question, against concurring with the Senate in their amendment.
2d. Because it is well known that, throughout the whole war, Mr. Webster was constantly urging upon Government greater extension of our naval means, and augmented expenditure and augmented efforts on the sea. The navy had been exceedingly unpopular with the party then in power. This every body knows; and Mr. Webster was attempting to argue it into popularity.
The Journal shows that, on the 8th November, 1814, the House went into committee on the bill from the Senate to authorize the President to build twenty vessels of war, to carry a certain number of guns. Mr. Reed moved to increase the number of guns more than twofold for each ship. Mr. Webster voted in the affirmative, but the motion was lost, and the bill then passed without opposition. Doubtless many other votes of this kind may be found in the Journal, for the debates show that Mr. Webster constantly urged the increase of our naval power as the best means of meeting our enemy, the proudest maritime power in the world.
In respect, then, to the vote here complained of, the fact is, that it was not a vote against an appropriation to defray the expenses of the navy, but was a vote against the assumption of the Senate to originate, by way of amendment, large appropriations of money for military service.
It was then, and is now, thought by many, exclusively the legitimate office of the House of Representatives, to originate all the principal grants of money for the support of Government. Would it be considered fair to charge Nathaniel Macon and others, the friends of Mr. Madison, and distinguished supporters of the war, with a disposition to withhold the means of defending the country, because he and they voted against the extraordinary amendment of the Senate ? Certainly not; and, therefore, the same charge now made against Mr. Webster with voting with Nathaniel Macon on that question, is unfair, if not ridiculous.
II. "On the 10th January, 1814, he voted against a proposition more effectually to detect and punish traitors and spies."
This is absolutely untrue.
On the 10th of January, 1814, Mr. Wright, of Maryland, moved the following resolution:
"Resolved, That a Committee of the Whole House be instructed to inquire into the expediency of extending the second section of the act for the establishment of rules and articles for the government of the armies of the United States, relative to spies, to citizens of the United States."
The effect of extending the rules and articles of war relative to spies to citizens of the United States, would have been to expose every American citizen visiting the encampment of the American army, to be charged with being a spy, and have that charge tried and determined by a drum-head court-martial, and that trial followed by death.
It would have withdrawn from our citizens that great shield of American liberty the right of trial by jury- and placed the whole country, and all our citizens, at once under martial law. So thought Mr. Webster, and he voted
against it. So thought Mr. Cheves and Mr. Farrow, of South Carolina; Mr. Duvall, Mr. Ormsby, and Mr. Clark, of Kentucky; Mr. Eppes, of Virginia; Mr. Kent, of Maryland; Mr. Seybert, of Pennsylvania; Mr. Fisk, of Vermont, (or New York ;) Mr. King, of North Carolina, (now Senator from Alabama, and late President of the Senate ;) Mr. Richardson, (late Chief Justice of New Hampshire ;) Mr. Robertson, of Louisiana; and many others of the warmest supporters of the administration of Mr. Madison; and they voted with Mr. Webster; and there is no more truth in this charge against Mr. Webster than in the same charge, should it be made, against Mr. Eppes, the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, son-in-law of Mr. Jefferson, and leader of the then Democratic party in the House of Representatives.
III. "On the 25th of March, he voted against the bill to call forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union and repel invasion."
This is wholly a mistake, or misstatement.
The Journal of the 25th of
March shows no such question voted upon, or pending.
IV. "On the 1st of December, only a few days before the meeting of the Hartford Convention, he voted against a bill to provide additional revenue for defraying the expenses of the Government, and maintaining the public credit."
This reference to the Hartford Convention is merely for effect, and to make unfair and false impressions; as it is known to all, who are not wilfully ignorant, that Mr. Webster had nothing to do with the Hartford Convention.
The opponents of Mr. Webster have been, again and again, challenged in vain to the proof, that he was in any manner connected with the Hartford Convention, its origin, or proceedings. No such proof has been or can be presented. And yet the charge, so falsely made, and so often refuted, continues to be repeated.
As for the rest of the fourth allegation, it only appears that Mr. Webster was in a very small minority against a bill laying taxes on various articles, to some of which taxes there were very serious objections, however important the object, while money could be raised in other modes.
This bill proposed a direct tax upon various articles. It laid duties upon sales at auction, on the postage of letters, on licenses to retail wines, on licenses to retail spirituous liquors and foreign merchandise, on carriages for the conveyance of persons, and on plate, harness, &c. It is but fair to ascribe Mr. Webster's vote against this bill to his objection to the form of some of the taxes, because the Journal shows that, a few days before, he voted in the affirmative on a proposition to increase other taxes.
The yeas and nays given in the Journal show that the vote on the tax bill referred to was not, by any means, a test of parties, or a party vote most of the leading Opposition members having voted in the affirmative. The Journal of the 26th of October, 1814, shows that Mr. Webster proposed and voted for some of the taxes provided for by this bill, but, as he disapproved of other taxes contained in it, he voted against the whole bill.
V. "On the 10th, he voted to postpone indefinitely a bill authorizing the President of the United States to call upon the several States for their respective quotas of militia to defend the frontier against invasion."
VI. "On the 13th, he voted against the same bill."
The answer to these stands on the same ground as those to some of the preceding. The reason is not given, but the debate shows a reason, fair and honest at least, whatever may be thought of its strength and validity. Mr. Webster never gave a vote against defending the country, against repelling invasion, or