« PreviousContinue »
augment the prices of its great staples, it is reasonable to expect, that these objects will be pursued by the best means which offer. And it may therefore well deserve consideration, whether the commercial, and navigating, and manufacturing interests of the North do not call on us to aid and support them, by united counsels, and united efforts. But I abstain from enlarging on this topic. Let me rather say, sir, that in regard to the whole country, a new era has arisen. In a time of peace, the proper pursuits of peace engage society with a degree of enterprise, and an intenseness of application, heretofore unknown. New objects are opening, and new resources developed, on every side. We tread on a broader theatre; and if instead of acting our parts, according to the novelty and importance of the scene, we waste our strength in mutual crimination and recrimination about the past, we shall resemble those navigators, who having escaped from some crooked and narrow river to the sea, now that the whole ocean is before them, should, nevertheless, occupy themselves with the differences which happened as they passed along among the rocks and the shallows, instead of opening their eyes to the wide horizon around them, spreading their sail to the propitious gale that woos it, raising their quadrant to the sun, and grasping the helm, with the conscious hand of a master.
IN FANEUIL HALL, ON THURSDAY, JUNE 5th, 1828.
At a public dinner given him, by the citizens of Boston, as a mark of respect for his public services as Senator of the United States, and late their Representative in Congress,—after the annunciation of the following toast :-" Our distinguished Guest-worthy the noblest homage, which freemen can give, or a freeman receive: the homage of their hearts:” Mr. Webster rose and said :
MR. CHAIRMAN,-The honor conferred by this occasion, as well as the manner in which the meeting has been pleased to receive what has now been proposed to them from the Chair, requires from me a most respectful acknowledgement, and a few words of honest and sincere thanks. I should, indeed, be lost to all just feeling, or guilty of a weak and peurile affectation, if I should fail to manifest the emotions which are excited by these testimonials of regard, from those among whom I live, who see me oftenest, and know me best. If the approbation of good men be an object fit to be pursued, it is fit to be enjoyed; if it be, as it doubtless is, one of the most stirring and invigorating motives, which operate upon the mind, it is, also, among the richest rewards which console and gratify the heart.
I confess myself particularly touched and affected, Mr. President, and gentlemen, by the kind feeling which you manifest towards me, as your fellow citizen, your neighbour, and your friend. Respect and confidence, in these relations of life, lie at the foundation of all valuable character; they are as essential to solid and permanent reputation, as to durable and social happiness. I assure you, sir, with the utmost sincerity, that there is nothing which could flow from human approbation or applause, no distinction, however high or alluring, no object of ambition, which could possibly be brought within the horizon of my view, that would tempt me, in any degree, justly to forfeit the attachment of my private friends, or surrender my hold, as a citizen, and a neighbour, on the confidence of the community in which I live; a community, to which I owe so much, in the bosom of which I have enjoyed so much, and where I still hope to remain, in the exercise of mutual good offices, and the interchange of mutual good wishes, for the residue of life.
The commendation which the meeting has bestowed on my attempts at public service, I am conscious, is measured rather by their own kindness, than by any other standard. Of those attempts, no one can think more humbly than I do. The affairs of the general
government, foreign and domestic, are vast, and various, and complicated. They require from those who would aspire to take a leading part in them an amount, a variety, and an accuracy of information, which even if the adequate capacity were not wanting, are not easily attained, by one whose attention is necessarily mainly devoted to the duties of an active and laborious profession. For this as well as many other reasons, I am conscious of having discharged my public duties, in a manner no way entitling them to the degree of favor which has now been manifested.
And this manifestation of favor and regard is the more especially to be referred to the candor and kindness of the meeting, on this occasion, since it is well known, that in a recent instance, and in regard to an important measure, I have felt it my duty to give a vote, in respect to the expediency and propriety of which considerable difference of opinion exists, between persons equally entitled to my regard and confidence.-The candid interpretation which has been given to that vote, by those who disapproved it, and the assembling together here, for the purpose of this occasion, of those who felt pain, as well as those who felt pleasure, at the success of the measure for which the vote was given, afford ample proof, how far unsuspected uprightness of intention, and the exercise of an independent judgment may be respected, even by those who differ from the results to which that exercise of judgment has arrived. There is no class of the community for whose interests I have ever cherished a more sincere regard, than that on whose pursuits some parts of the measure alluded to bears with great severity. They are satisfied, I hope, that in supporting a measure in any degree injurious to them, I must have been governed by other paramount reasons, satisfactory to my own conscience; and that the blow, inflicted on their interests, was felt by me almost as painfully and heavily, as it could be by those on whom it immediately fell. I am not now about to enter into the reason of that vote, or to explain the necessity under which I found myself placed by a most strange and unprecedented manner of legislation, of taking the evil of a public measure for the sake of its good; the good and the bad provisions relating to different subjects, having not the slightest connexion with each other, yet yoked together, and kept together, for reasons and purposes which I need not state, as they have been boldly avowed, and are now before the public.
It was my misfortune, sir, on that occasion to differ from my most estimable and worthy colleague. And yet probably our difference was not so broad as it might seem. We both saw, in the measure, something to approve, and something to disapprove. If it could have been left to us to mould and to frame it according to our opinions of what the good of the country required, there would have been no diversity of judgment between us, as to what should have been retained and what rejected. The only difference was, when the measure had assumed its final shape, whether the good it contained so far preponderated over its acknowledged evil, as to justify the reception and support of the whole together. On a point of this sort, and under circumstances such as those in which we were placed, it is not strange that different minds should incline different ways. It gives me great pleasure to bear testimony to the constancy, the intelligence
and the conscious fidelity with which my colleague discharged his public duty, in reference to this subject. I am happy also to have the opportunity of saying, that if the bill had been presented to me, in the form it was when it received a negative vote from the distinguished gentleman who represents this District, my own opinion of it would have entirely concurred with his, and I should have voted in the same manner.
The meeting will indulge me with one further remark, before parting from this subject. It is only the suggestion, that in the place I occupied I was one of the Representatives of the whole Commonwealth. I was not at liberty to look exclusively to the interests of the District in which I live, and which I have heretofore had the high honor of representing. I was to extend my view from Barnstable to Berkshire; to comprehend in it a proper regard for all interests, and a proper respect for all opinions. Looking to the aggregate of all the interests of the Commonwealth, and regarding the general current of opinion, so far as that was properly to be respected, I saw at least I thought I saw-my duty to lie in the path which I pursued. The measure is adopted. Its consequences, for good or evil, must be left to the results of experience. In the meantime, I refer the propriety of the vote which I gave, with entire submission, and with the utmost cheerfulness also, to the judgment of the good people of the Commonwealth.
On some other subjects, Mr. President, I had the good fortune to act in perfect unison with my colleague, and with every Representative of the State. On one, especially, the success of which, I am sure, must have gratified every one who hears me. I could not, sir, have met this meeting here, I could not have raised my voice in Faneuil Hall—you would have awed me down-if you had not, the pictures of Patriots which adorn these walls would have frowned me into silence, if I had refused either my vote or my voice to the cause of the officers and soldiers of the revolutionary army. That measure, mixed up of justice, and charity, and mercy, is at last accomplished. The survivors, among those who fought our revolutionary battles, under an engagement to see the contest through, are at length provided for, not sumptuously, not extravagantly, but in a manner to place them, in their old age, beyond the reach of absolute want. Solace, also, has been administered to their feelings, as well as to their necessities. They are not left to count their scars, or to experience the pain of wounds, inflicted half a century ago, in their country's service, without some token, that they are yet held in grateful remembrance-a gratifying proof of respect for the services of their youth and manhood quickens the pulsations of patriotism, in veteran bosoms; and as they may now live, beyond the reach of absolute want, so they will have the pleasure of closing life, when that time for closing it shall come, which must come, with the happy consciousness of meritorious services, gratefully recompensed.
Another subject, now becoming exceedingly interesting, was, in various forms, presented to Congress at the last session; and in regard to which, I believe, there is, substantially, a general union of opinion among the members from this Commonwealth. what is commonly called Internal Improvements. The great and
growing importance of this subject may, I hope, justify a few remarks, relative to it, on the present occasion.
It was evident to all persons of much observation, at the close of the late war, that the condition and prospects of the United States had become essentially changed, in regard to sundry great interests of the country. Almost from the commencement of the government, down near to the commencement of that war, the United States had occupied a position of singular and extraordinary advantage. They had been at peace, while the powers of Europe had been at war. The harvest of neutrality had been to them rich and ample; and they had reaped it with skill and diligence. Their agriculture and commerce had both felt sensibly, the benefit arising from the existing state of the world. Bread was raised for those whose hands were otherwise employed than in the cultivation of the field, and the seas were navigated, for account of such, as being belligerents, could not safely navigate them for themselves. These opportunities for useful employment were all seized and enjoyed, by the enterprise of the country; and a high degree of prosperity was the natural result. But with general peace, a new state of things arose. The European states at once turned their own attention to the pursuits, proper for their new situation, and sought to extend their own agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial interests. It was evident, that thenceforward, instead of enjoying the advantages peculiar to neutrality, in times of war, a general competition would spring up, and nothing was to be expected without a struggle. Other nations would now raise their own bread, and as far as possible, transport their own commodities; and the export trade, and the carrying trade of this country, were, therefore, certain to receive new and powerful competition, if not sudden and violent checks. It seemed reasonable, therefore, in this state of things, to turn our thoughts inwards, to explore the hitherto unexplored resourses of our own country, to find out, if we could, new diversifications of industry, new subjects for the application of labor at home. It was fit to consider how far home productions could, properly, be made to furnish activity to home supply; and since the country stretched over so many parallels of latitude and longitude, abounding, of course, in the natural productions proper to each, it was of the highest importance to inquire what means existed of establishing free and cheap intercourse, between those parts, thereby bringing the raw material, abounding in one, under the action of the productive labor which was found in another. Roads and Canals, therefore, were seen to be of the first consequence. And then the interesting question arose; how far it was constitutionally lawful, and how far expedient, for the general government to give aid and succour to the business of making roads and canals, in conjunction with individual enterprise, or State undertakings. I am among those who have held the opinion that if any object of that kind be of general and national importance, it is within the scope of the powers of the government; though I admit it to be a power which should be exercised with very great care and discretion. Congress has power to regulate commerce, both internal and external; and whatever might have been thought to be the literal interpretation of these terms, we know the construction to have been,