THIRTY YEARS VIEW
1820 TO 1850
DEBATE BETWEEN MR. CLAY AND MR. CALHOUN,
PERSONAL AND POLITICAL, AND LEADING TO EXPOSITIONS AND VINDICATIONS OF PUBLIC CONDUCT WHICH BELONG TO HISTORY.
For seven years past Mr. Calhoun, while disclaiming connection with any party, had acted on leading measures with the opposition, headed by Messrs. Clay and Webster. Still disclaiming any such connection, he was found at the extra session co-operating with the administration. His co-operation with the opposition had given it the victory in many eventful contests in that long period ; his co-operation with the Van Buren administration might turn the tide of victory. The loss or gain of a chief who, in a nearly balanced state of parties, could carry victory to the side which he espoused, was an event not to be viewed without vexation by the party which he left. Resentment was as natural on one side as gratification was on the other. The democratic party had made no reproaches(I speak of the debates in Congress)when Mr. Calhoun left them ; they debated questions with him as if there had been no cause for personal complaint. Not so with the opposition now when the course of his transit was reversed, and the same event occurred to themselves. They took deeply to heart this withdrawal of one of their leaders, and his appearance on the other side. It created a feeling of personal resentment against Mr. Calhoun which had manifested itself in several small side-blows at the extra session ; and it broke out into systematic attack at the regular one. Some sharp passages took place between himself and Mr. Webster, but not of a kind to lead to any thing historical. He (Mr. Webster) was but slightly inclined towards that kind of speaking which mingles personality with argument, and lessens the weight of the adversary argument by reducing the weight of the speakers character. Mr. Clay had a turn that way ; and, certainly, a great ability for it. Invective, mingled with sarcasm, was one of the phases of his oratory. He was supreme at a philippic (taken in the sense of Demosthenes and Cicero), where the political attack on a public mans measure was to be enforced and heightened by a personal attack on his conduct. He owed much of his fascinating power over his hearers to the exercise of this talentalways so captivating in a popular assembly, and in the galleries of the Senate ; not so much so in the Senate itself ; and to him it naturally fell to become the organ of the feelings of his party towards Mr. Calhoun. And very cordially, and carefully, and amply, did he make preparation for it.
The storm had been gathering since September : it burst in February. It had been evidently waiting for an occasion : and found it in the first speech of Mr. Calhoun, of that session, in favor of Mr. Van Burens recommendation for an independent treasury and a federal hard money currency. This speech was delivered the 15th of February, and was strictly argumentative and parliamentary, and wholly confined to its subject. Four days thereafter Mr. Clay answered it ; and although ready at an extemporaneous speech ; he had the merit, when time permitted, of considering well both the matter and the words of what he intended to deliver. On this occasion he had had ample time ; for the speech of Mr. Calhoun could not be essentially different from the one he delivered on the same subject at the extra session ; and the personal act which excited his resentment was of the same date. There had been six months for preparation ; and fully had preparation been made. The whole speech bore the impress of careful elaboration, and especially the last part ; for it consisted of two distinct partsthe first, argumentative, and addressed to the measure before the Senate and was in fact, as well as in name, a reply. The second part was an attack, under the name of a reply, and was addressed to the personal conduct of Mr. Calhoun, reproaching him with his desertion (as it was called), and taunting him with the company he had got intotaking care to remind him of his own former sad account of that company : and then, launching into a wider field, he threw up to him all the imputed political delinquencies of his life for near twenty yearsskipping none from 1816 down to the extra session ;although he himself had been in close political friendship with this alleged delinquent during the greater part of that long time. Mr. Calhoun saw at once the advantage which this general and sweeping assault put into his hands. Had the attack been confined to the mere circumstance of quitting one side and joining the other, it might have been treated as a mere personality ; and, either left unnoticed, or the account settled at once with some ready words of retort and justification. But in going beyond the act which gave the offencebeyond the cause of resentment, which was recent, and arraigning a member on the events of almost a quarter of a century of public life, he went beyond the limits of the occasion, and gave Mr. Calhoun the opportunity of explaining, or justifying, or excusing all that had ever been objected to him ; and that with the sympathy in the audience with which attack for ever invests the rights of defence. He saw his advantage, and availed himself of it. Though prompt at a reply, he chose to make none in a hurry. A pause ensued Mr. Clays conclusion, every one deferring to Mr. Calhouns right of reply. He took the floor, but it was only to say that he would reply at his leisure to the senator from Kentucky.
He did reply, and at his own good time, which was at the end of twenty days ; and in a way to show that he had smelt the lamp, not of Demades, but of Demosthenes, during that time. It was profoundly meditated and elaborately composed : the matter solid and condensed ; the style chaste, terse and vigorous ; the narrative clear ; the logic close ; the sarcasm cutting and every word bearing upon the object in view. It was a masterly oration, and like Mr. Clays speech, divided into two parts ; but the second part only seemed to occupy his feelings, and bring forth words from the heart as well as from the head. And well it might ! He was speaking, not for life, but for character ! and defending public character, in the conduct which makes it, and on high points of policy, which belonged to historydefending it before posterity and the present age, impersonated in the American Senate, before which he stood, and to whom be appealed as judges while invoking as witnesses. He had a high occasion, and he felt it ; a high tribunal to plead before, and he rejoiced in it ; a high accuser ; and he defied him ; a high stake to contend for, his own reputation : and manfully, earnestly, and powerfully did he defend it. He had a high example both in oratory, and in the analogies of the occasion, before him ; and well had he looked into that example. I happened to know that in this time he refreshed his reading of the Oration on the Crown ; and, as the delivery of his speech showed, not without profit. Besides its general cast ; which was a good imitation, there were passages of a vigor and tersenessof a power and simplicitywhich would recall the recollection of that masterpiece of the oratory of the world. There were points of analogy in the cases as well as in the speeches, each case being that of one eminent statesman accusing another, and before a national tribunal, and upon the events of a public life. More happy than the Athenian orator, the American statesman had no foul imputations to repel. Different from Æschines and Demosthenes, both himself and Mr. Clay stood above the imputation of corrupt action or motive. If they had faults, and what public man is without them ? they were the faults of lofty naturesnot of sordid souls ; and they looked to the honors of their countrynot its plunderfor their fair reward.
When Mr. Calhoun finished, Mr. Clay instantly arose, and rejoinedhis rejoinder almost entirely directed to the personal part of the discussion, which from its beginning had been the absorbing part. Much stung by Mr. Calhouns reply, who used the sword as well as the buckler, and with a keen edge upon it, he was more animated and sarcastic in the rejoinder than in the first attack. Mr. Calhoun also rejoined instantly. A succession of brief and rapid rejoinders took place between them (chiefly omitted in this work), which seemed running to infinity, when Mr. Calhoun, satisfied with what he had done ; pleasantly put an and to it by saying, he saw the senator from Kentucky was determined to have the last word ; and he would yield it to him. Mr. Clay, in the same spirit, disclaimed that desire ; and said no more. And thus the exciting debate terminated with more courtesy than that with which it had been conducted.
In all contests of this kind there is a feeling of violated decorum which makes each party solicitous to appear on the defensive, and for that purpose to throw the blame of commencing on the opposite side. Even the one that palpably throws the first stone is yet anxious to show that it was a defensive throw ; or at least provoked by previous wrong. Mr. Clay had this feeling upon him, and knew that the onus of making out a defensive case fell upon him ; and he lost no time in endeavoring to establish it. He placed his defence in the forepart of the attack. At the very outset of the personal part of his speech he attended to this essential preliminary, and found the justification, as he believed, in some expressions of Mr. Calhoun in his sub-treasury speech ; and in a couple of passages in a letter he had written on a public occasion, after his return from the extra sessioncommonly called the Edgefield letter. In the speech he believed he found a reproach upon the patriotism of himself and friends in not following his (Mr. Calhouns) lead in support of the administration financial and currency measures ; and in the letter, an impeachment of the integrity and patriotism of himself and friends if they got into power ; and also an avowal that his change of sides was for selfish considerations. The first reproach, that of lack of patriotism in not following Mr. Calhouns lead, he found it hard to locate in any definite part of the speech ; and had to rest it upon general expressions. The others, those founded upon passages in the letter, were definitely quoted ; and were in these terms : I could not back and sustain those in such opposition in whose wisdom, firmness and patriotism I had no reason to confide. It was clear, with our joint forces (whigs and nullifiers), we could utterly overthrow and demolish them ; but it was not less clear that the victory would enure, not to its, but exclusively to the benefit of our allies, and their cause. These passages were much commented upon, especially in the rejoinders ; and the whole letter produced by Mr. Calhoun, and the meaning claimed for them fully stated by him.
In the speeches for and against the crown we see Demosthenes answering what has not been found in the speech of Eschines : the same anomaly took place in this earnest debate, as reported between Mr. Clay and Mr. Calhoun. The latter answers much which is not found in the published speech to which he is replying. It gave rise to some remark between the speakers during the rejoinders. Mr. Calhoun said he was replying to the speech as spoken. Mr. Clay said it was printed under his supervisionas much as to say he sanctioned the omissions. The fact is, that with a commendable feeling, he had softened some parts, and omitted others ; for that which is severe enough in speaking, becomes more so in writing ; and its omission or softening is a tacit retraction, and honorable to the cool reflection which condemns what passion, or heat, had prompted. But Mr. Calhoun did not accept the favor : and, neither party desiring quarter, the one answered what had been dropt, and the other re-produced it, with interest. In his rejoinders, Mr. Clay supplied all that had been omittedand made additions to it.
This contest between two eminent men, on a theatre so elevated, in which the stake to each was so great, and in which each did his best, conscious that the eye of the age and of posterity was upon him, was an event in itself, and in their lives. It abounded with exemplifications of all the different sorts of oratory of which each was master : on one sidedeclamation, impassioned eloquence, vehement invective, taunting sarcasm : on the otherclose reasoning, chaste narrative, clear statement, keen retort. Two accessories of such contests (disruptions of friendships), were missing, and wellthe pathetic and the virulent. There was no crying, or blackguarding in itnothing like the weeping scene between Fox and Burke, when the heart overflowed with tenderness at the recollection of former love, now gone forever ; nor like the virulent one when the gall, overflowing with bitterness, warned an ancient friend never to return as a spy to the camp which he had left as a deserter.
There were in the speeches of each some remarkable passages, such only as actors in the scenes could furnish, and which history will claim. Thus : Mr. Clay gave some inside views of the concoction of the famous compromise act of 1833 ; which, so far as they go, correspond with the secret history of the same concoction as given in one of the chapters on that subject in the first volume of this work. Mr. Clays speech is also remarkable for the declaration that the protective system, which he so long advocated, was never intended to be permanent that its only design was to give temporary encouragement to infant manufactures : and that it had fulfilled its mission. Mr. Calhouns speech was also remarkable for admitting the power, and the expediency of incidental protection, as it was called ; and on this ground he justified his support of the tariff of 1816so much objected against him. He also gave his history of the compromise of 1833, attributing it to the efficacy of nullification and of the military attitude of South Carolina : which brought upon him the relentless sarcasm of Mr. Clay ; and occasioned his explanation of his support of a national bank in 1816. He was chairman of the committee which reported the charter for that bank, and gave it the support which carried it through ; with which he was reproached after he became opposed to the bank. He explained the circumstances under which he gave that supportsuch as I had often heard him state in conversation ; and which always appeared to me to be sufficient to exempt him from reproach. At the same time (and what is but little known), he had the merit of opposing, and probably of defeating, a far more dangerous bankone of fifty millions (equivalent to one hundred and twenty millions now), and founded almost wholly upon United States stocksimposingly recommended to Congress by the then secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Alexander J. Dallas. The analytical mind of Mr. Calhoun, then one of the youngest members, immediately solved this monster proposition into its constituent elements ; and his power of generalization and condensation, enabled him to express its char after in two wordslending our credit to the bank for nothing, and borrowing it back at six per cent. interest. As an alternative, and not as a choice, he supported the national bank that was chartered, after twice defeating the monster bank of fifty millions founded on paper ; for that monster was twice presented to Congress, and twice repulsed. The last time it came as a currency measureas a bank to create a national currency ; and as such was referred to a select committee on national currency, of which Mr. Calhoun was chairman. He opposed it, and fell into the support of the bank which was chartered. Strange that in this search for a national bank, the currency of the constitution seemed to enter no ones head. The revival of the gold currency was never suggested ; and in that oblivion of gold, and still hunting a substitute in paper, the men who put down the first national bank did their work much less effectually that those who put down the second one.
The speech of each of these senators, so far as they constitute the personal part of the debate, will be given in a chapter of its own : the rejoinders being brief, prompt, and responsive each to the other, will be put together in another chapter. The speeches of each, having been carefully prepared and elaborated, may be considered as fair specimens of their speaking powersthe style of each different, but each a first class speaker in the branch of oratory to which he belonged. They may be read with profit by those who would wish to form an idea of the style and power of these eminent orators. Manner, and all that is comprehended under the head of delivery, is a different attribute ; and there Mr. Clay had an advantage, which is lost in transferring the speech to paper. Some of Mr. Calhouns characteristics of manner may be seen in these speeches. He eschewed the studied exordiums and perorations, once so much in vogue, and which the rhetoricians rules teach how to make. A few simple words to announce the beginning, and the same to show the ending of his speech, was about as much as he did in that way ; and in that departure from custom he conformed to what was becoming in a business speech, as his generally were ; and also to what was suitable to his own intellectual style of speaking. He also eschewed the trite, familiar, and unparliamentary mode (which of late has got into vogue) of referring to a senator as, my friend, or, the distinguished, or, the eloquent, or, the honorable, &c. He followed the written rule of parliamentary law ; which is also the clear rule of propriety ; and referred to the member by his sitting-place in the Senate, and the State from which he came. Thus : the senator from Kentucky who sits farthest from me; which was a sufficient designation to those present, while for the absent, and for posterity the name (Mr. Clay) would be put in brackets. He also addressed the body by the simple collective phrase, senators ; and this was, not accident, or fancy, but system, resulting from convictions of propriety ; and he would allow no reporter to alter it.
Mr. Calhoun laid great stress upon his speech in this debate, as being the vindication of his public life ; and declared, in one of his replies to Mr. Clay, that he rested his public character upon it, and desired it to be read by those who would do him justice. In justice to him, and as being a vindication of several measures of his mentioned in this work, not approvingly, a place is here given to it.
This discussion between two eminent men, growing out of support and opposition to the leading measures of Mr. Van Burens administration, indissolubly connects itself with the passage of those measures ; and gives additional emphasis and distinction to the era of the crowning policy which separated bank and statemade the government the keeper of its own moneyrepulsed paper money from the federal treasuryfilled the treasury to bursting with solid gold ; and did more for the prosperity of the country than any set of measures from the foundation of the government.
DEBATE BETWEEN MR. CLAY AND MR. CALHOUN :
MR. CLAYS SPEECH : EXTRACTS.
WHO, Mr. President, are the most conspicuous of those who perseveringly pressed this bill upon Congress and the American people ? Its drawer is the distinguished gentleman in the white house not far off (Mr. VAN BUREN) ; its indorser is the distinguished senator from South Carolina, here present. What the drawer thinks of the indorser, his cautious reserve and stifled enmity prevent us from knowing. But the frankness of the indorser has not left us in the same ignorance with respect to his opinion of the drawer. He has often expressed it upon the floor of the Senate. On an occasion not very distant, denying him any of the noble qualities of the royal beast of the forest, he attributed to him those which belong to the most crafty, most skulking, and the meanest of the quadruped tribe. Mr. President, it is due to myself to say, that I do not altogether share with the senator from South Carolina in this opinion of the President of the United States. I have always found him, in his manners and deportment, civil, courteous, and gentlemanly ; and he dispenses, in the noble mansion which he now occupies, one worthy the residence of the chief magistrate of a great people, a generous and liberal hospitality. An acquaintance with him of more than twenty years duration has inspired me with a respect for the man, although, I regret to be compelled to say, I detest the magistrate.
The eloquent senator from South Carolina has intimated that the course of my friends and myself, in opposing this bill, was unpatriotic, and that we ought to have followed in his lead ; and, in a late letter of his, he has spoken of his alliance with us, and of his motives for quitting it. I cannot admit the justice of his reproach. We united, if, indeed, there were any alliance in the case, to restrain the enormous expansion of executive power ; to arrest the progress of corruption ; to rebuke usurpation ; and to drive the Goths and Vandals from the capital ; to expel Brennus and his horde from Rome, who, when he threw his sword into the scale, to augment the ransom demanded from the mistress of the world, showed his preference for gold ; that he was a hard-money chieftain. It was by the much more valuable metal of iron that he was driven from her gates. And how often have we witnessed the senator from South Carolina, with woeful countenance, and in doleful strains, pouring forth touching and mournful eloquence on the degeneracy of the times, and the downward tendency of the republic ? Day after day, in the Senate, have we seen the displays of his lofty and impassioned eloquence. Although I shared largely with the senator in his apprehension for the purity of our institutions, and the permanency of our civil liberty, disposed always to look at the brighter side of human affairs, I was sometimes inclined to hope that the vivid imagination of the senator had depicted the dangers by which we were encompassed in somewhat stronger colors than they justified.
The arduous contest in which we were so long engaged was about to terminate in a glorious victory. The very object for which the alliance was formed was about to be accomplished. At this critical moment the senator left us ; he left us for the very purpose of preventing the success of the common cause. He took up his musket, knapsack, and shot-pouch, and joined the other party. He went, horse, foot, and dragoon ; and he himself composed the whole corps. He went, as his present most distinguished ally commenced with his expunging resolution, solitary and alone. The earliest instance recorded in history, within my recollection, of an ally drawing off his forces from the combined army, was that of Achilles at the siege of Troy. He withdrew, with all his troops, and remained in the neighborhood, in sullen and dignified inactivity. But he did not join the Trojan forces ; and when, during the progress of the siege, his faithful friend fell in battle, he raised his avenging arm, drove the Trojans back into the gates of Troy, and satiated his vengeance by slaying Priams noblest and dearest son, the finest hero in the immortal Iliad. But Achilles had been wronged, or imagined himself wronged, in the person of the fair and beautiful Briseis. We did no wrong to the distinguished senator from South Carolina. On the contrary, we respected him, confided in his great and acknowledged ability, his uncommon genius, his extensive experience, his supposed patriotism ; above all, we confided in his stern and inflexible fidelity. Nevertheless, he left us, and joined our common opponents, distrusting and distrusted. He left us, as he tells us in the Edgefield letter, because the victory which our common arms were about to achieve, was not to enure to him and his party, but exclusively to the benefit of his allies and their cause. I thought that, actuated by patriotism (that noblest of human virtues), we had been contending together for our common country, for her violated rights, her threatened liberties, her prostrate constitution. Never did I suppose that personal or party considerations entered into our views. Whether, if victory shall ever again be about to perch upon the standard of the spoils party (the denomination which the senator from South Carolina has so often given to his present allies), he will not feel himself constrained, by the principles on which he has acted, to leave them, because it may not enure to the benefit of himself and his party, I leave to be adjusted between themselves.
The speech of the senator from South Carolina was plausible, ingenious, abstract, metaphysical, and generalizing. It did not appear to me to be adapted to the bosoms and business of human life. It was aerial, and not very high up in the air, Mr. President, eithernot quite as high as Mr. Clayton was in his last ascension in his balloon. The senator announced that there was a single alternative, and no escape from one or the other branch of it. He stated that we must take the bill under consideration, or the substitute proposed by the senator from Virginia. I do not concur in that statement of the case. There is another course embraced in neither branch of the senators alternative ; and that course is to do nothing,always the wisest when you are not certain what you ought to do. Let us suppose that neither branch of the alternative is accepted, and that nothing is done. What, then, would be the consequence ? There would be a restoration of the law of 1789, with all its cautious provisions and securities, provided by the wisdom of our ancestors, which has been so trampled upon by the late and present administrations. By that law, establishing the Treasury department, the treasure of the United States is to be received, kept, and disbursed by the treasurer, under a bond with ample security, under a large penalty fixed by law, and not left, as this bill leaves it, to the uncertain discretion of a Secretary of the Treasury. If, therefore, we were to do nothing, that law would be revived ; the treasurer would have the custody, as he ought to have, of the public money, and doubtless he would make special deposits of it in all instances with safe and sound State banks ; as in some cases the Secretary of the Treasury is now obliged to do. Thus, we should have in operation that very special deposit system, so much desired by some gentlemen, by which the public money would remain separate and unmixed with the money of banks.
There is yet another course, unembraced by either branch of the alternative presented by the senator from South Carolina ; and that is, to establish a bank of the United States, constituted according to the old and approved method of forming such an institution, tested and sanctioned by experience ; a bank of the United States which should blend public and private interests, and be subject to public and private control ; united together in such manner as to present safe and salutary checks against all abuses. The senator mistakes his own abandonment of that institution as ours. I know that the party in power has barricaded itself against the establishment of such a bank. It adopted, at the last extra session, the extraordinary and unprecedented resolution, that the people of the United States should not have such a bank, although it might be manifest that there was a clear majority of them demanding it. But the day may come, and I trust is not distant, when the will of the people must prevail in the councils of her own government ; and when it does arrive, a bank will be established.
The senator from South Carolina reminds us that we denounced the pet bank system ; and so we did, and so we do. But does it therefore follow that, bad as that system was, we must be driven into the acceptance of a system infinitely worse ? He tells us that the bill under consideration takes the public funds out of the hands of the Executive, and places them in the hands of the law. It does no such thing. They are now without law, it is true, in the custody of the Executive ; and the bill proposes by law to confirm them in that custody, and to convey new and enormous powers of control to the Executive over them. Every custodary of the public funds provided by the bill is a creature of the Executive ; dependent upon his breath, and subject to the same breath for removal, whenever the Executivefrom caprice, from tyranny, or from party motives shall choose to order it. What safety is there for the public money, if there were a hundred subordinate executive officers charged with its care, whilst the doctrine of the absolute unity of the whole executive power, promulgated by the last administration, and persisted in by this, remains unrevoked and unrebuked ?
Whilst the senator from South Carolina professes to be the friend of State banks, he has attacked the whole banking system of the United States. He is their friend ; he only thinks they are all unconstitutional ! Why ? Because the coining power is possessed by the general government ; and that coining power, he argues, was intended to supply a currency of the precious metals ; but the State banks absorb the precious metals, and withdraw them from circulation, and, therefore, are in conflict with the coining power. That power, according to my view of it, is nothing but a naked authority to stamp certain pieces of the precious metals, in fixed proportions of alloy and pure metal prescribed by law ; so that their exact value be known. When that office is performed, the power is functus officio ; the money passes out of the mint, and becomes the lawful property of those who legally acquire it. They may do with it as they please,throw it into the ocean, bury it in the earth, or melt it in a crucible, without violating any law. When it has once left the vaults of the mint, the law maker has nothing to do with it, but to protect it against those who attempt to debase or counterfeit, and, subsequently, to pass it as lawful money. In the sense in which the senator supposes banks to conflict with the coining power, foreign commerce, and especially our commerce with China, conflicts with it much more extensively.
The distinguished senator is no enemy to the banks ; he merely thinks them injurious to the morals and industry of the country. He likes them very well, but he nevertheless believes that they levy a tax of twenty-five millions annually on the industry of the country ! The senator from South Carolina would do the banks no harm ; but they are deemed by him highly injurious to the planting interest ! According to him, they inflate prices, and the poor planter sells his productions for hard money, and has to purchase his supplies at the swollen prices produced by a paper medium. The senator tells us that it has been only within a few days that he has discovered that it is illegal to receive bank notes in payment of public dues. Does he think that the usage of the government under all its administrations, and with every party in power, which has prevailed for nigh fifty years, ought to be set aside by a novel theory of his, just dreamed into existence, even if it possess the merit of ingenuity ? The bill under consideration, which has been eulogized by the senator as perfect in its structure and details, contains a provision that bank notes shall be received in diminished proportions, during a term of six years. He himself introduced the identical principle. It is the only part of the bill that is emphatically his. How, then, can he contend that it is unconstitutional to receive bank notes in payment of public dues ? I appeal from himself to himself.
The doctrine of the senator in 1816 was, as he now states it, that bank notes being in fact received by the executive, although contrary to law, it was constitutional to create a Bank of the United States. And in 1834, finding that bank which was constitutional in its inception, but had become unconstitutional in its progress, yet in existence, it was quite constitutional to propose, as the senator did, to continue it twelve years longer.
The senator and I began our public career nearly together ; we remained together throughout the war. We agreed as to a Bank of the United Statesas to a protective tariffas to internal improvements ; and lately as to those arbitrary and violent measures which characterized the administration of General Jackson. No two men ever agreed better together in respect to important measures of public policy. We concur in nothing now.
The Papers of John C. Calhoun
University of South Carolina Press, 1979
MR. CALHOUNS SPEECH
[In the Senate, March 10, 1838]
I RISE to fulfil a promise I made some time since, to notice at my leisure the reply [on Feb. 19] of the senator from Kentucky farthest from me [Mr. CLAY], to my remarks, when I first addressed the Senate on the subject now under discussion [on Feb. 15].
On comparing with care the reply with the remarks, I am at a loss to determine whether it is the most remarkable for its omissions or misstatements. Instead of leaving not a hair in the head of my arguments, as the senator threatened (to use his not very dignified expression), he has not even attempted to answer a large, and not the least weighty, portion ; and of that which he has, there is not one fairly stated, or fairly answered. I speak literally, and without exaggeration ; nor would it be difficult to establish to the letter what I assert, if I could reconcile it to myself to consume the time of the Senate in establishing a long series of negative propositions, in which they could take but little interest, however important they may be regarded by the senator and myself. To avoid so idle a consumption of the time, I propose to present a few instances of his misstatements, from which the rest may be inferred ; and, that I may not be suspected of having selected them, I shall take them in the order in which they stand in his reply.
The Senate will recollect, that when the senator from Virginia farthest from me (Mr. [William C.] Rives) introduced his substitute, he accompanied it with the remark that it was his first choice, and the second choice of those who are allied with him on this occasion. In noticing this remark, I stated, that if I might judge from appearances, which could scarcely deceive [any] one, the senator might have said not only the second, but, under existing circumstances, it was the first choice ; and that, despairing of a bank for the present, they would support his substitute. Assuming this inference to be correct, I stated that the question was narrowed down, in fact, to the bill and substitute, of which one or the other must be selected. The senator from Kentucky, in his reply, omitted all these qualifications, and represented me as making the absolute assertion that, in the nature of the case, there was no other alternative but the bill or the substitute, and then gravely pointed out two othersto do nothing, or adopt a National Bank, as if I could possibly be ignorant of what was so obvious. After he had thus replied, not to what I really said, but his own misstatement of it, as if to make compensation, he proceeded in the same breath to confirm the truth of what I did say, by giving his support to the substitute, which he called a half-way house, where he could spend some pleasant hours. Nothing is more easy than to win such victories.
Having inferred, as has turned out to be the fact, that there was no other alternative at present but the bill and substitute, I next showed the embarrassment to which the gentlemen opposite to me would be involved from having, four years ago, on the question of the removal of the deposites, denounced a league of State banks similar to that proposed to be revived by the substitute. After enlarging on this point, I remarked, that if I might be permitted to state my opinion, the gentlemen had taken a course on this subject unfortunate for themselves and the countryunfortunate for them, for, let what would come, they would be responsible. If the bill was lost, theirs would be the responsibility ; if the substitute was carried, on them the responsibility would fall ; and if nothing was done, it would be at their door ; and unfortunate for the country, because it had prevented the decision of the question at the extra session, which would not have failed to put an early termination to the present commercial and pecuniary embarrassment. This the senator, in his reply, met by stating that I had called on him and his friends to follow my lead ; and thus regarding it, he made it the pretext of some ill-natured personal remarks, which I shall notice hereafter. I never dreamed of making such a call ; and what I said cannot be tortured, by the force of construction, to bear a meaning having the least resemblance to it.
After making these preliminary remarks, I took up the substitute, and showed that it proposed to make a bargain with the banks. I then stated the particulars and the conditions of the proposed bargain ; that its object was to enable the banks to pay their debts, and for that purpose it proposed to confer important privileges ; to give them the use of the public funds from the time of deposite to disbursement, and to have their notes received as cash in the dues of the government. I then asked if we had a right to make such a bargain. The senator, leaving out all these particulars, represented me as saying that the government had no right to make a bargain with the banks ; and then undertakes to involve me in an inconsistency in supporting the bill, because it proposes to bargain with the banks for the use of their vaults as a place of safe-keeping for the public money ; as if there was a possible analogy between the two cases. Nothing is more easy than to refute the most demonstrative argument in this way. Drop an essential part of the premises, and the most irresistible conclusion, of course, fails.
In the same summary and easy mode of replying to my arguments, the senator perverted my denial that the government had a right to receive bank-notes as cash, into the assertion that it had no right to receive anything but cash ; and then accuses me of inconsistency, because I voted, at the extra session, for the bill authorizing the receipt of treasury notes in the dues of the government ; as if any one ever doubted that it could receive its own paper, or securities, in payment of its own debts. Such are the misstatements of the senator, taken in their regular order as they stand in his reply, and they present a fair specimen of what he chooses to consider an answer to my argument. There is not one less unfairly stated, or unfairly met, than the instances I have cited.
The senator presented two difficulties in reply to what I said against receiving bank-notes by the government, which demand a passing notice before I dismiss this part of the subject. He objected, first, that it was contrary to the provision of the bill itself, which authorizes the receipts of the notes of specie-paying banks for a limited time. To answer this objection, it will be necessary to advert to the object of the provision. By the provisions of the joint resolutions [sic] of 1816, the notes of specie-paying banks are made receivable in the dues of the government ; and, of course, on the resumption of specie payments, bank-notes would again be received by the government as heretofore, without limitation as to time, unless some provision be adopted to prevent it. In a word, the government, though wholly separated, in fact, at present from the banks, is not so by law ; and the object of the provision is to effect a permanent separation in law and in fact. This it proposed to do by a gradual repeal of the joint resolution of 1816, in order to prevent, as far as possible, any injurious effects to the community or the banks. The senator, in making his objection, overlooks the broad distinction between the doing and undoing of an unconstitutional act. There are some unconstitutional acts that are difficult, if not impossible, to be undone ; such, for instance, as the admission of Louisiana into the Union, admitting it to be unconstitutional, which I do not. There are others which cannot be undone suddenly without wide-spread distress and ruin ; such as the protective tariff, which, accordingly, the Compromise Act [of 1833] allowed upward of eight years for the gradual repeal. Such, also, is the case under consideration, which, under the provisions of the bill, would be effected in seven years. In all such cases, I hold it to be not only clearly constitutional for Congress to make a gradual repeal, but its duty to do so ; otherwise it would be often impossible to get clear of an unconstitutional act short of a revolution.
His next objection was, that the reasons which would make the receipt of bank-notes unconstitutional, would also make the China trade so, which he represented as absorbing a large portion of the specie of the country. There is no analogy whatever between the two cases. The very object of specie is to carry on trade, and it would be idle to attempt to regulate the distribution and fluctuation which result from its operation. Experience proves that all attempts of the kind must either prove abortive or mischievous. In fact, it may be laid down as a law, that the more universal the demand for specie, and the less that demand is interrupted, the more steady and uniform its value, and the more perfectly, of course, it fulfils the great purpose of circulation, for which it was intended. There are, however, not a few who, taking a different view, have thought it to be the duty of the government to prohibit the exportation of specie to China, on the very ground which the senator assumes, and I am not certain but that he himself has been in favor of the measure.
But the senator did not restrict himself to a reply to my arguments. He introduced personal remarks, which neither self-respect, nor a regard to the cause I support, will permit me to pass without notice, as adverse as I am to all personal controversies. Not only my education and disposition, but, above all, my conception of the duties belonging to the station I occupy, indisposes me to such controversies. We are sent here, not to wrangle, or indulge in personal abuse, but to deliberate and decide on the common interests of the States of this Union, as far as they have been subjected by the constitution to our jurisdiction. Thus thinking and feeling, and having perfect confidence in the cause I support, I addressed myself, when I was last up, directly and exclusively to the understanding, carefully avoiding every remark which had the least personal or party bearing. In proof of this, I appeal to you, senators, my witnesses and judges on this occasion. But it seems that no caution on my part could prevent what I was so anxious to avoid. The senator, having no pretext to give a personal direction to the discussion, made a premeditated and gratuitous attack on me. I say having no pretext ; for there is not a shadow of foundation for the assertion that I called on him and his party to follow my lead, at which he seemed to take offence, as I have already shown. I made no such call, or any thing that could be construed into it. It would have been impertinent, in the relation between myself and his party, at any stage of this question ; and absurd at that late period, when every senator had made up his mind. As there was, then, neither provocation nor pretext, what could be the motive of the senator in making the attack ? It could not be to indulge in the pleasure of personal abusethe lowest and basest of all our passions ; and which is so far beneath the dignity of the senators character and station. Nor could it be with the view to intimidation. The senator knows me too long, and too well, to make such an attempt. I am sent here by constituents as respectable as those he represents, in order to watch over their peculiar interests, and take care of the general concern ; and if I were capable of being deterred by any one, or any consequence, in discharging my duty, from denouncing what I regarded as dangerous or corrupt, or giving a decided and zealous support to what I thought right and expedient, I would, in shame and confusion, return my commission to the patriotic and gallant State I represent, to be placed in more resolute and trustworthy hands.
If, then, neither the one nor the other of these be the motive, what, I repeat, can it be ? In casting my eyes over the whole surface I can see but one, which is, that the senator, despairing of the sufficiency of his reply to overthrow my arguments, had resorted to personalities, in the hope, with their aid, to effect what he could not accomplish by main strength. He well knows that the force of an argument on moral or political subjects depends greatly on the character of him who advanced it ; and that to cast suspicion on his sincerity or motive, or to shake confidence in his understanding, is often the most effectual mode to destroy its force. Thus viewed, his personalities may be fairly regarded as constituting a part of his reply to my argument ; and we, accordingly, find the senator throwing them in front, like a skilful general, in order to weaken my arguments before he brought on his main attack. In repelling, then, his personal attacks, I also defend the cause which I advocate. It is against that his blows are aimed, and he strikes at it through me, because he believes his blows will be the more effectual.
Having given this direction to his reply, he has imposed on me a double duty to repel his attacks : duty to myself, and to the cause I support. I shall not decline its performance ; and when it is discharged, I trust I shall have placed my character as far beyond the darts which he has hurled at it, as my arguments have proved to be above his abilities to reply to them. In doing this, I shall be compelled to speak of myself. No one can be more sensible than I am how odious it is to speak of ones self. I shall endeavor to confine myself within the limits of the strictest propriety ; but if any thing should escape me that may wound the most delicate ear, the odium ought in justice to fall not on me, but the senator, who, by his unprovoked and wanton attack, has imposed on me the painful necessity of speaking of myself.
The leading charge of the senatorthat on which all the others depend, and which, being overthrown, they fall to the groundis that I have gone over ; have left his side, and joined the other. By this vague and indefinite expression, I presume he meant to imply that I had either changed my opinion, or abandoned my principle, or deserted my party. If he did not mean one, or all ; if I have changed neither opinions, principles, nor party, then the charge meant nothing deserving notice. But if he intended to imply, what I have presumed he did, I take issue on the factI meet and repel the charge. It happened, fortunately for me, fortunately for the cause of truth and justice, that it was not the first time that I had offered my sentiments on the question now under consideration. There is scarcely a single point in the present issue on which I did not explicitly express my opinion, four years ago, in my place here, when the removal of the deposits and the questions connected with it were under discussionso explicitly as to repel effectually the charge of any change on my part ; and to make it impossible for me to pursue any other course than I have without involving myself in gross inconsistency. I intend not to leave so important a point to rest on my bare assertion. What I assert stands on record, which I now hold in my possession, and intend, at the proper time, to introduce and read. But, before I do that, it will be proper I should state the questions now at issue, and my course, in relation to them ; so that, having a clear and distinct perception of them, you may, senators, readily and satisfactorily compare and determine whether my course on the present occasion coincides with the opinions I then expressed.
There are three questions, as is agreed by all, involved in the present issue : Shall we separate the government from the banks, or shall we revive the league of State banks, or create a national bank ? My opinion and course in reference to each are well known. I prefer the separation to either of the others ; and, as between the other two, I regard a national bank as a more efficient, and a less corrupting fiscal agent than a league of State banks. It is also well known that I have expressed myself on the present occasion hostile to the banking system, as it exists ; and against the constitutional power of making a bank, unless on the assumption that we have the right to receive and treat bank-notes as cash in our fiscal operations, which I, for the first time, have denied on the present occasion. Now, I entertained and expressed all these opinions, on a different occasion, four years ago, except the right of receiving bank-notes, in regard to which I then reserved my opinion ; and if all this should be fully and clearly established by the record, from speeches delivered and published at the time, the charge of the senator must, in the opinion of all, however prejudiced, sink to the ground. I am now prepared to introduce, and have the record read. I delivered two speeches in the session of 1833-34, one on the removal of the deposits, and the other on the question of the renewal of the charter of the late bank. I ask the secretary to turn to the volume lying before him, and read the three paragraphs marked in my speech [of Jan. 13, 1834] on the deposits. I will thank him to raise his voice and read slowly, so that he may be distinctly heard ; and I must ask you, senators, to give your attentive hearing ; for on the coincidence between my opinions then and my course now, my vindication against this unprovoked and groundless charge rests.
If, said Mr. C[alhoun], this was a question of Bank or no Bankif it involved the existence of the banking system, it would indeed be a great questionone of the first magnitude, and, with my present impression, long entertained and daily deepeningI would hesitatelong hesitate, before I would be found under the banner of the system. I have great doubts, if doubts they may be called, as to the soundness and tendency of the whole system, in all its modifications. I have great fears that it will be found hostile to liberty and the advance of civilizationfatally hostile to liberty in our country, where the system exists in its worst and most dangerous form. Of all institutions affecting the great question of the distribution of wealtha question least explored and the most important of any in the whole range of political economy, the banking institution has, if not the greatest, among the greatest influence, and I fear, most pernicious influence on the mode of distribution. Were the question really before us, I would not shun the responsibility, as great as it might be, of freely and fully offering my sentiments on these deeply important points ; but, as it is, I must content myself with the few remarks which I have thrown out.
What, then, is the real question which now agitates the country ? I answer, it is a struggle between the Executive and Legislative departments of the Governmenta struggle, not in relation to the existence of the bank, but which, Congress or the President, should have the power to create a bank, and the consequent control over the currency of the country. This is the real question. Let us not deceive ourselvesthis leaguethis association of bankscreated by the Executive ; bound together by its influence ; united in common articles of association ; vivified and sustained by receiving the deposites of the public money, and having their notes converted, by being received every where by the Treasury, into the common currency of the country, is, to all intents and purposes, a bank of the United Statesthe Executive bank of the U[nited] States, as distinguished from that of Congress. However it might fail to perform satisfactorily the useful functions of the Bank of the U[nited] States, as incorporated by law, it would outstrip itfar outstrip itin all its dangerous qualities, in extending the power, the influence, and the corruption of the Government. It was impossible to conceive any institution more admirably calculated to advance these objects. Not only the selected banks, but the whole banking institutions of the country, and with them the entire money power, for the purpose of speculation, peculation, and corruption, would be placed under the control of the Executive. A system of menaces and promises will be establishedof menace to the banks in possession of the deposites, but which might not be entirely subservient to Executive views ; and of promise of future favors to those who may not as yet enjoy its favors. Between the two, the banks would be left without influence, honor, or honesty ; and a system of speculation and stock-jobbing would commence, unequalled in the annals of our country. I fear they have already commencedI fear the means which have been put in the hands of the minions of power by the removal of the deposites, and placing them in the vaults of dependent banks, have extended their cupidity to the public lands, particularly in the southwest, and that to this we must attribute the recent phenomena in that quarter ; immense and valuable tracts of land sold at short notice-sales fraudulently postponed to aid the speculators, with which, if I am not misinformed, a name not unknown to this body [Samuel Gwin, Register of a Land Office in Miss.] has performed a prominent part. But I leave this to my vigilant and able friend from Mississippi, (Mr. [George] Poindexter,) at the head of the Committee on Public Lands, who, I doubt not, will see justice done to the public. As to stockjobbing, this new arrangement will open a field which Rothschild himself may envy. It has been found hard workvery hard, no doubtby the jobbers in stock, who have been engaged in attempts to raise or depress the price of U.S. Bank stock ; but no work will be more easy than to raise or depress the price of the stock of the selected banks, at the pleasure of the Executive. Nothing more will be required than to give or withhold deposites ; to draw, or abstain from drawing warrantsto pamper them at one time, and starve them at another. Those who would be in the secret, and who would know when to buy and when to sell, would have the means of realizing, by dealing in the stocks, whatever fortune they might please.
So long as the question is one between a Bank of the United States incorporated by Congress and that system of banks which has been created by the will of the Executive, it is an insult to the understanding to discourse on the pernicious tendency and [un]constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. To bring up that question fairly and legitimately, you must go one step fartheryou must divorce the Government and the banking system. You must refuse all connexion with Banks. You must neither receive nor pay away bank notes ; you must go back to the old system of the strong box, and of gold and silver. If you have a right to receive bank notes at allto treat them as money by receiving them in your dues, or paying them away to creditors, you have a right to create a bank. Whatever the Government receives and treats as money, is money ; and, if it be money, then they have the right, under the Constitution, to regulate it. Nay, they are bound by a high obligation to adopt the most efficient means, according to the nature of that which they have recognized as money, to give it the utmost stability and uniformity of value. And if it be in the shape of bank notes, the most efficient means of giving those qualities, is a Bank of the U[nited] States, incorporated by Congress. Unless you give the highest practical uniformity to the value of bank notesso long as you receive them in your dues, and treat them as money, you violate that provision of the Constitution which provides that taxation shall be uniform throughout the United States. There is no other alternative, I repeat, you must divorce the Government entirely from the banking system, or, if not, you are bound to incorporate a bank as the only safe and efficient means of giving stability and uniformity to the currency. And should the deposites not be restored, and the present illegal and unconstitutional connexion between the Executive and the league of banks continue, I shall feel it my duty, if no one else moves, to introduce a measure to prohibit Government from receiving or touching bank notes in any shape whatever, as the only means left of giving safety and stability to the currency, and saving the country from corruption and ruin.
Such were my sentiments, delivered four years since, on the question of the removal of the deposits, and now standing on record ; and I now call your attention senators, while they are fresh in your minds, and before other extracts are read, to the opinions I then entertained and expressed, in order that you may compare them with those that I have expressed, and the course I have pursued on the present occasion. In the first place, I then expressed myself explicitly and decidedly against the banking system, and intimated, in language too strong to be mistaken, that, if the question was then bank or no bank, as it now is, as far as government is concerned, I would not be found on the side of the bank. Now, I ask, I appeal to the candor of all, even the most prejudiced, is there any thing in all this contradictory to my present opinions or course ? On the contrary, having entertained and expressed these opinions, could I at this time, when the issue I then supposed is actually presented, have gone against the separation without gross inconsistency ? Again, I then declared myself to be utterly opposed to a combination or league of State banks, as being the most efficient and corrupting fiscal agent the government could select, and more objectionable than a bank of the United States. I again appeal, is there a sentiment or a word in all this contradictory to what I have said, or done, on the present occasion ? So far otherwise, is there not a perfect harmony and coincidence throughout, which, considering the distance of time and the difference of the occasion, is truly remarkable ; and this extending to all the great and governing questions now at issue ?
But the removal of the deposits was not the only question discussed at that remarkable and important session. The charter of the United States Bank was then about to expire. The senator from Massachusetts nearest to me [Mr. WEBSTER], then at the head of the committee on finance, suggested, in his place, that he intended to introduce a bill to renew the charter. I clearly perceived that the movement, if made, would fail ; and that there was no prospect of doing any thing to arrest the danger approaching, unless the subject was taken up on the broad question of the currency ; and that if any connection of the government with the banks could be justified at all, it must be in that relation. I am not among those who believe that the currency was in a sound condition when the deposits were removed in 1834. I then believed, and experience has proved I was correct, that it was deeply and dangerously diseased ; and that the most efficient measures were necessary to prevent the catastrophe which has since fallen on the circulation of the country. There was then not more than one dollar in specie, on an average, in the banks, including the United States Bank and all, for six of bank notes in circulation ; and not more than one in eleven compared to liabilities of the banks ; and this while the United States Bank was in full and active operation ; which proves conclusively that its charter ought not to be renewed, if renewed at all, without great modifications. I saw also that the expansion of the circulation, great as it then was, must still farther increase ; that the disease lay deep in the system ; that the terms on which the charter of the Bank of England was renewed would give a western direction to specie, which, instead of correcting the disorder by substituting specie for bank notes in our circulation, would become the basis of new banking operations that would greatly increase the swelling tide. Such were my conceptions then, and I honestly and earnestly endeavored to carry them into effect, in order to prevent the approaching catastrophe.
The political and personal relations between myself and the senator from Massachusetts [Mr. WEBSTER], were then not the kindest. We stood in opposition at the preceding session on the great question growing out of the conflict between the State I represented and the general government, which could not pass away without leaving unfriendly feelings on both sides ; but where duty is involved, I am not in the habit of permitting my personal relations to interfere. In my solicitude to avoid coming dangers, I sought an interview, through a common friend, in order to compare opinions as to the proper course to be pursued. We met, and conversed freely and fully, but parted without agreeing. I expressed to him my deep regret at our disagreement, and informed him that, although I could not agree with him, I would throw no embarrassment in his way ; but should feel it to be my duty ; when he made his motion to introduce a bill to renew the charter of the bank, to express my opinion at large on the state of the currency and the proper course to be pursued ; which I accordingly did. On that memorable occasion I stood almost alone. One party supported the league of State banks, and the other the United States Bank, the charter of which the senator from Massachusetts [Mr. WEBSTER,] proposed to renew for six years. Nothing was left me but to place myself distinctly before the country on the ground I occupied, which I did fully and explicitly in the speech I delivered on the occasion. In justice to myself, I ought to have every word of it read on the present occasion. It would of itself be a full vindication of my course. I stated and enlarged on all the points to which I have already referred ; objected to the recharter as proposed by the mover ; and foretold that what has since happened would follow, unless something effectual was done to prevent it. As a remedy, I proposed to use the Bank of the United States as a temporary expedient, fortified with strong guards, in order to resist and turn back the swelling tide of circulation. With this view, I proposed to prohibit the issue of any note under ten dollars at first, and, after a certain interval, under twenty ; and to refuse to receive the notes of any bank that issued notes under five dollars, or that received the notes of any bank that issued less, in order to make a total separation between the banks that should refuse to discontinue the issue of small notes and the others, in the hope that the influence of the latter, with the voice of the community, would ultimately compel a discontinuance. I proposed that the charter, with these and other provisions that might be devised by a committee appointed for the purpose, should be renewed for twelve years, two years longer than the Bank of England had been, in order to avail ourselves of the experience and wisdom of that great and enlightened nation. All this I proposed, expressly on the ground of undoing the system, gradually and slowly, until a total disconnexion should be effected, if experience should show that it could be carried to that extent. My object was doubleto get clear of the system, and to avert the catastrophe which has since befallen us, and which I then saw was approaching.
To prove all this I again refer to the record. If it shall appear from it that my object was to disconnect the government gradually and cautiously from the banking system, and with that view, and that only, I proposed to use the Bank of the United States for a short time, and that I explicitly expressed the same opinions then as I now have on almost every point connected with the system ; I shall not only have vindicated my character from the charge of the senator from Kentucky, but shall do more, much more to show that I did all an individual, standing alone, as I did, could do to avert the present calamities, and, of course, I am free from all responsibility for what has since happened. I have shortened the extracts, as far as was possible to do justice to myself, and have left out much that ought, of right, to be read in my defence, rather than to weary the Senate. I know how difficult it is to command attention to reading of documents ; but I trust that this, where justice to a member of the body, whose character has been assailed, without the least provocation, will form an exception. The extracts are numbered, and I will thank the secretary to pause at the end of each, unless otherwise desired.
The secretary here read the following extract [from Calhouns speech on the bill to recharter the Bank of the United States, delivered on March 21, 1834.]:
After a full survey of the whole subject, I see none, I can conjecture no means of extricating the country from its present danger, and to arrest its farther increase, but a bank, the agency of which, in some form or under some authority, is indispensable. The country has been brought into the present diseased state of the currency by banks, and must be extricated by their agency. We must, in a word, use a bank to unbank the banks, to the extent that may be necessary to restore a safe and stable currency ; just as we apply snow to a frozen limb in order to restore vitality and circulation, or hold up a burn to the flame to extract the inflammation. All must see that it is impossible to suppress the banking system at once. It must continue for a time. Its greatest enemies, and the advocates of an exclusive specie circulation, must make it a part of their system to tolerate the banks for a longer or a shorter period. To suppress them at once would, if it were possible, work a greater revolutiona greater change in the relative condition of the various classes of the community, than would the conquest of the country by a savage enemy. What, then, must be done ? I answer, a new and safe system must gradually grow up under and replace the old ; imitating, in this respect, the beautiful process we sometimes see of a wounded or diseased part in a living organic body gradually superseded by the healing process of nature.
After having so expressed myself, which clearly shows that my object was to use the bank for a time in such a manner as to break the connection with the system, without a shock to the country or currency, I then proceeded and examined the question, whether this could be best accomplished by the renewal of the charter of the United States Bank, or through a league of State banks. After concluding what I had to say on the subject, in my deep solicitude I addressed the three parties in the Senate separately, urging such motives as I thought best calculated to act on them ; and pressing them to join me in the measure suggested, in order to avert approaching danger. I began with my friends of the State rights party, and with the administration. I have taken copious extracts from the address to the first, which will clearly prove how exactly my opinions then and now coincide on all questions connected with the banks. I now ask the secretary to read the extract numbered two [from the speech of March 21/1834].
Having now stated the measure necessary to apply the remedy, I am thus brought to the question, Can the measure succeed ? which brings up the inquiry of how far it may be expected to receive the support of the several parties which compose the Senate, and on which I shall next proceed to make a few remarks.
First, then, Can the State Rights party give it their support ? that party of which I am proud of being a member, and for which I entertain so strong an attachmentthe stronger because we are few among many. In proposing this question, I am not ignorant of their long-standing constitutional objection to the Bank, on the ground this was intended to be, as it is usually expressed, a hard-money governmenta government whose circulating medium was intended to consist of the precious metals, and for which object the power of coining money and regulating the value thereof was expressly conferred by the Constitution. I know how long and how sincerely this opinion has been entertained, and under how many difficulties it has been maintained. It is not my intention to attempt to change an opinion so firmly fixed, but I may be permitted to make a few observations, in order to present what appears to me to be the true question in reference to this constitutional point in order that we may fully comprehend the circumstances under which we are placed in reference to it. With this view, I do not deem it necessary to inquire whether, in conferring the power to coin money and to regulate the value thereof, the Constitution intended to limit the power strictly to coining money and regulating its value, or whether it intended to confer a more general power over the currency ; nor do I intend to inquire whether the word coin is limited simply to the metals, or may be extended to other substances, if, through a gradual change, they may become the medium of the general circulation of the world. [ ....]
The very receipt of bank-notes, on the part of the government, in its dues, would, it is conceded, make them money as far as the government may be concerned, and, by a necessary consequence, would make them, to a great extent, the currency of the country. I say nothing of the positive provisions in the Constitution which declare that all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States, which cannot be, unless that in which they are paid should also have, as nearly as practicable, a uniform value throughout the country. To effect this, where banknotes are received, the banking power is necessary and proper within the meaning of the Constitution ; and, consequently, if the government has the right to receive bank-notes in its dues, the power becomes constitutional. Here lies (said Mr. C[alhoun]) the real constitutional question : Has the government a right to receive bank-notes, or not ? The question is not upon the mere power of incorporating a bank, as it has been commonly argued ; though, even in that view, there would be as great a constitutional objection to any act on the part of the executive, or any other branch of the government, which should unite any association of State banks into one system, as the means of giving the uniformity and stability to the currency which the Constitution intends to confer. The very act of so associating or incorporating them into one, by whatever name called, or by whatever department performed, would be, in fact, an act of incorporation.
But (said Mr. C[alhoun]) my object, as I have stated, is not to discuss the constitutional questions, nor to determine whether the Bank be constitutional or not. It is, I repeat, to show where the difficulty liesa difficulty which I have felt from the time I first came into the public service. I found then, as now, the currency of the country consisting almost entirely of bank-notes. I found the government intimately connected with the system, receiving bank-notes in its dues, and paying them away, under its appropriations, as cash. The fact was beyond my control ; it existed long before my time, and without my agency ; and I was compelled to act on the fact as it existed, without deciding on the many questions which I have suggested as connected with this subject, and on many of which I have never yet formed a definite opinion. No one can pay less regard to precedent than I do, acting here in my representative and deliberative character, on legal or constitutional questions ; but I have felt, from the beginning, the full force of the distinction so sensibly taken by the senator from Virginia (Mr. [Benjamin W.] Leigh) between doing and undoing an act, and which he so strongly illustrated in the case of the purchase of Louisiana. The constitutionality of that act was doubted by many at the time, and, among others, by its author [Thomas Jefferson] himself ; yet he would be considered a madman who, coming into political life at this late period, should now seriously take up the question of the constitutionality of the purchase, and, coming to the conclusion that it was unconstitutional, should propose to rescind the act, and eject from the Union two flourishing States and a growing territory.
I next ask the attention of the senators, especially from the Northern States, while the secretary reads the short address to the opposition, that they may see how distinctly I foresaw what was coming, and how anxious I was to avert the calamity that has fallen on the section where I anticipated it would. I ask the secretary to read the extract numbered three [from the speech of 3/21/1834].
I next address myself to the members of the opposition, who principally represent the commercial and manufacturing portions of the country, where the banking system has been the farthest extended, and where a larger portion of the property exists in the shape of credit than in any other section ; and to whom a sound, stable currency is most necessary, and the opposite most dangerous. You have no constitutional objection ; to you it is a mere question of expediency ; viewed in this light, can you vote for the proposed measure ? a measure designed to arrest the approach of events which I have demonstrated must, if not arrested, create convulsions and revolutions ; and to correct a disease which must, if not corrected, subject the currency to continued agitations and fluctuations, and in order to give that permanence, stability, and uniformity, which are so essential to your prosperity. To effect this may require some diminution on the profits of banking, some temporary sacrifice of interest ; but, if such should be the fact, it will be compensated in more than a hundred-fold proportion, by increased security and durable prosperity. If the system must advance in the present course without a check, and if explosion must follow, remember that where you stand will be the crater ; should the system quake, under your feet the chasm will open that will ingulf your institutions and your prosperity.
I regret to trespass on the patience of the Senate, but I wish, in justice to myself, to ask their attention to one more, which, though not immediately relating to the question under consideration, is not irrelevant to my vindication. I not only expressed my opinions freely in relation to the currency and the bank, in the speech from which such copious extracts have been read, but had the precaution to define my political position distinctly in reference to the political parties of the day, and the course I would pursue in relation to each. I then, as now, belonged to the party to which it is my glory ever to have been attached exclusively ; and avowed, explicitly, that I belonged to neither of the two parties, opposition or administration, then contending for superiority ; which of itself ought to go far to repel the charge of the senator from Kentucky, that I have gone over from one party to the other. The secretary will read the last extract [from the speech of 3/21/1834].
I am the partisan, as I have said, of no class, nor, let me add, of any political party. I am neither of the opposition nor of the administration. If I act with the former in any instance, it is because I approve of their course on the particular occasion ; and I shall always be happy to act with them when I do approve. If I oppose the administration ; if I desire to see power change hands, it is because I disapprove of the general course of those in authority ; because they have departed from the principles on which they came into office ; because, instead of using the immense power and patronage put into their hands to secure the liberty of the country and advance the public good, they have perverted them into party instruments for personal objects. But mine has not been, nor will it be a systematic opposition. Whatever measure of theirs I may deem right, I shall cheerfully support, and I only desire that they shall afford me more frequent occasions for support, and fewer for opposition, than they have heretofore done.
Such, senators, are my recorded sentiments in 1834. They are full and explicit on all the questions involved in the present issue, and prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that I have changed no opinion, abandoned no principle, nor deserted any party. I stand now on the ground I stood then, and, of course, if my relations to the two opposing parties are changedif I now act with those I then opposed, and oppose those with whom I then acted, the change is not in me. I, at least, have stood still. In saying this, I accuse none of changing. I leave others to explain their position, now and then, if they deem explanation necessary. But, if I may be permitted to state my opinion, I would say that the change is rather in the questions and the circumstances than in the opinions or principles of either of the parties. The opposition were then, and are now, national bank men, and the administration, in like manner, were anti-national bank, and in favor of a league of State banks ; while I preferred then, as now, the former to the latter, and a divorce from banks to either. When the experiment of the league failed, the administration were reduced to the option between a national bank and a divorce. They chose the latter, and such, I have no reason to doubt, would have been their choice, had the option been the same four years ago. Nor have I any doubt, had the option been then between a league of banks and divorce, the opposition then, as now, would have been in favor of the league. In all this there is more apparent than real change. As to myself there has been neither. If I acted with the opposition and opposed the administration then, it was because I was openly opposed to the removal of the deposits and the league of banks, as I now am ; and if I now act with the latter and oppose the former, it is because I am now, as then, in favor of a divorce, and opposed to either a league of State banks or a national bank, except, indeed, as the means of effecting a divorce gradually and safely. What, then, is my offence ? What but refusing to abandon my first choice, the divorce from the banks, because the administration has selected it, and of going with the opposition for a national bank, to which I have been and am still opposed ? That is all ; and for this I am charged with going overleaving one party and joining the other.
Had some guardian angel, Mr. President, whispered in my ear at the time, Be cautious what you say ; this question will not terminate here ; four years hence it will be revived under very different circumstances, when your principles and duty will compel you to act with those you now oppose, and oppose those with whom you now act, and when you will be charged with desertion of principles, I could not have guarded myself more effectually than I have done. Yet, in the face of all this, the senator has not only made the charge, but has said, in his place, that he heard, for the first time in his life, at the extra session, that I was opposed to a national bank ! I could place the senator in a dilemma from which there is no possibility of escape. I might say to him, you have either forgot, or not, what I said in 1834. If you have not, how can you justify yourself in making the charge you have ? But if you haveif you have forgot what is so recent, and what, from the magnitude of the question and the importance of the occasion, was so well calculated to impress itself on your memory, what possible value can be attached to your recollection or opinions, as to my course on more remote and less memorable occasions, on which you have undertaken to impeach my conduct ? He may take his choice.
Having now established by the record that I have changed no opinion, abandoned no principle, nor deserted any party, the charge of the senator, with all the aspersions with which he accompanied it ; falls prostrate to the earth. Here I might leave the subject, and close my vindication. But I choose not. I shall follow the senator up, step by step, in his unprovoked, and I may now add, groundless attack, with blows not less decisive and victorious.
The senator next proceeded to state, that in a certain document (if he named it, I did not hear him) I assigned as the reason why I could not join in the attack on the administration, that the benefit of the victory would not enure to myself, or my party ; or, as he explained himself, because it would not place myself and them in power. I presume he referred to a letter [of 11/3/1837], in answer to an invitation to a public dinner, offered me by my old and faithful friends and constituents of Edgefield [District, S.C.], in approbation of my course at the extra session.
[Mr. CLAY. I do.]
The pressure of domestic engagements would not permit me to accept their invitation ; and, in declining it, I deemed it due to them and myself to explain my course, in its political and party bearing, more fully than I had done in debate. They had a right to know my reasons, and I expressed myself with the frankness due to the long and uninterrupted confidence that had ever existed between us.
Having made these explanatory remarks, I now proceed to meet the assertion of the senator. I again take issue on the fact. I assigned no such reason as the senator attributes to me. I never dreamed nor thought of such a one ; nor can any force of construction extort such from what I said. No ; my object was not power or place, either for myself or party. I was far more humble and honest. It was to save ourselves and our principles from being absorbed and lost in a party, more numerous and powerful ; but differing from us on almost every principle and question of policy.
When the suspension of specie payments took place in May last (not unexpected to me), I immediately turned my attention to the event earnestly, considering it as an event pregnant with great and lasting consequences. Reviewing the whole ground, I saw nothing to change in the opinions and principles I had avowed in 1834 ; and I determined to carry them out, as far as circumstances and my ability would enable me. But I saw that my course must be influenced by the position which the two great contending parties might take in reference to the question. I did not doubt that the opposition would rally either on a national bank, or a combination of State banks, with Mr. Biddles at the head ; but I was wholly uncertain what course the administration would adopt, and remained so until the message of the President was received and read by the secretary at his table. When I saw he went for a divorce, I never hesitated a moment. Not only my opinions and principles long entertained, and, as I have shown, fully expressed years ago, but the highest political motives, left me no alternative. I perceived at once that the object, to accomplish which we had acted in concert with the opposition, had ceased : Executive usurpations had come to an end for the present : and that the struggle with the administration was no longer for power, but to save themselves. I also clearly saw, that if we should unite with the opposition in their attack on the administration, the victory over them, in the position they occupied, would be a victory over us and our principles. It required no sagacity to see that such would be the result. It was as plain as day. The administration had taken position as I have shown, on the very ground I occupied in 1834 ; and which the whole State rights party had taken at the same time in the other House, as its journals will prove. The opposition, under the banner of the bank, were moving against them for the very reason that they had taken the ground they did.
Now, I ask, what would have been the result if we had joined in the attack ? No one can now doubt that the victory over those in power would have been certain and decisive, nor would the consequences have been the least doubtful. The first fruit would have been a national bank. The principles of the opposition, and the very object of the attack, would have necessarily led to that. We would have been not only too feeble to resist, but would have been committed by joining in the attack with its avowed object to go for one, while those who support the administration would have been scattered in the winds. We should then have had a bankthat is clear ; nor is it less certain, that in its train there would have followed all the consequences which have and ever will follow, when triedhigh duties, overflowing revenue, extravagant expenditures, large surpluses ; in a word, all those disastrous consequences which have well near overthrown our institutions, and involved the country in its present difficulties. The influence of the institution, the known principles and policy of the opposition, and the utter prostration of the administration party, and the absorption of ours, would have led to these results as certainly as we exist.
I now appeal, senators, to your candor and justice, and ask, could I, having all these consequences before me, with my known opinions and that of the party to which I belong, and to which only I owe fidelity, have acted differently from what I did ? Would not any other course have justly exposed me to the charge of having abandoned my principles and party, with which I am now accused so unjustly ? Nay, would it not have been worse than follybeen madness in me, to have taken any other ? And yet, the grounds which I have assumed in this exposition are the very reasons assigned in my letter, and which the senator has perverted most unfairly and unjustly into the pitiful, personal, and selfish reason, which be has attributed to me. Confirmative of what I say, I again appeal to the record. The secretary will read the paragraph marked in my Edgefield letter [of Nov. 3 1837], to which, I presume, the senator alluded.
[The secretary of the Senate reads:]
As soon as I saw this state of things, I clearly perceived that a very important question was presented for our determination, which we were compelled to decide forthwithshall we continue our joint attack with the Nationals on those in power, in the new position which they have been compelled to occupy ? It was clear, with our joint forces, we could utterly overthrow and demolish them ; but it was not less clear that the victory would enure, not to us, but exclusively to the benefit of our allies and their cause. They were the most numerous and powerful, and the point of assault on the position which the party to be assaulted had taken in relation to the banks, would have greatly strengthened the settled principles and policy of the National party, and weakened, in the same degree, ours. They are, and ever have been, the decided advocates of a national bank ; and are now in favor of one with a capital so ample as to be sufficient to control the State institutions, and to regulate the currency and exchanges of the country. To join them with their avowed object in the attack to overthrow those in power, on the ground they occupied against a bank, would, of course, not only have placed the government and country in their hands without opposition, but would have committed us, beyond the possibility of extrication, for a bank ; and absorbed our party in the ranks of the National Republicans. The first fruits of the victory would have been an overshadowing National Bank, with an immense capital, not less than from fifty to a hundred millions ; which would have centralized the currency and exchanges, and with them the commerce and capital of the country, in whatever section the head of the institution might be placed. The next would be the indissoluble union of the political opponents, whose principles and policy are so opposite to ours, and so dangerous to our institutions, as well as oppressive to us.
I now ask, is there any thing in this extract which will warrant the construction that the senator has attempted to force on it ? Is it not manifest that the expression on which he fixes, that the victory would enure, not to us, but exclusively to the benefit of the opposition, alludes not to power or place, but to principle and policy ? Can words be more plain ? What then becomes of all the aspersions of the senator, his reflections about selfishness and the want of patriotism, and his allusions and illustrations to give them force and effect ? They fall to the ground without deserving a notice, with his groundless accusation.
But, in so premeditated and indiscriminate an attack, it could not be expected that my motives would entirely escape ; and we accordingly find the senator very charitably leaving it to time to disclose my motive for going over. Leave it to time to disclose my motive for going over ! I who have changed no opinion, abandoned no principle, and deserted no party : I who have stood still, and maintained my ground against every difficulty, to be told that it is left to time to disclose my motive ! The imputation sinks to the earth with the groundless charge on which it rests. I stamp it with scorn in the dust. I pick up the dart, which fell harmless at my feet. I hurl it back. What the senator charges on me unjustly, he has actually done. He went over on a memorable occasion, and did not leave it to time to disclose his motive.
The senator next tells us that I bore a character for stern fidelity ; which he accompanied with remarks implying that I had forfeited it by my course on the present occasion. If he means by stern fidelity a devoted attachment to duty and principle, which nothing can overcome, the character is, indeed a high one ; and I trust, not entirely unmerited. I have, at least, the authority of the senator himself for saying that it belonged to me before the present occasion, and it is, of course, incumbent on him to show that I have since forfeited it. He will find the task a Herculean one. It would be by far more easy to show the opposite ; that, instead of forfeiting, I have strengthened my title to the character ; instead of abandoning any principles, I have firmly adhered to them ; and that too, under the most appalling difficulties. If I were to select an instance in the whole course of my life on which, above all others, to rest my claim to the character which the senator attributed to me, it would be this very one, which he bas selected to prove that I have forfeited it.
I acted with the full knowledge of the difficulties I had to encounter, and the responsibility I must incur. I saw a great and powerful party, probably the most powerful in the country, eagerly seizing on the catastrophe which had befallen the currency, and the consequent embarrassments that followed, to displace those in power, against whom they had been long contending. I saw that, to stand between them and their object, I must necessarily incur their deep and lasting displeasure. I also saw that, to maintain the administration in the position they had takento separate the government from the banks, I would draw down on me, with the exception of some of the southern banks, the whole weight of that extensive, concentrated, and powerful interestthe most powerful by far of any in the whole community ; and thus I would unite against me a combination of political and moneyed influence almost irresistible. Nor was this all. I could not but see that, however pure and disinterested my motives, and however consistent my course with all I had ever said or done, I would be exposed to the very charges and aspersions which I am now repelling. The ease with which they could be made, and the temptation to make them, I saw were too great to be resisted by the party morality of the dayas groundless as I have demonstrated them. But there was another consequence that I could not but foresee, far more painful to me than all others. I but too clearly saw that, in so sudden and complex a juncture, called on as I was to decide on my course instantly, as it were, on the field of battle, without consultation, or explaining my reasons, I would estrange for a time many of my political friends, who had passed through with me so many trials and difficulties, and for whom I feel a brothers love. But I saw before me the path of duty, and, though rugged, and hedged on all sides with these and many other difficulties, I did not hesitate a moment to take it. Yes, alone, as the senator sneeringly says. After I had made up my mind as to my course, in a conversation with a friend about the responsibility I would assume, he remarked that my own State might desert me. I replied that it was not impossible ; but the result has proved that I under-estimated the intelligence and patriotism of my virtuous and noble State. I ask her pardon for the distrust implied in my answer ; but I ask with assurance it will be granted, on the grounds I shall put itthat, in being prepared to sacrifice her confidence, as dear to me as light and life, rather than disobey on this great question, the dictates of my judgment and conscience, I proved myself worthy of being her representative.
But if the senator, in attributing to me stern fidelity, meant, not devotion to principle, but to party, and especially the party of which he is so prominent a member ; my answer is, that I never belonged to his party, nor owed it any fidelity ; and, of course, could forfeit, in reference to it, no character for fidelity. It is true, we acted in concert against what we believed to be the usurpations of the Executive ; and it is true that, during the time, I saw much to esteem in those with whom I acted, and contracted friendly relations with many, which I shall not be the first to forget. It is also true that a common party designation was applied to the opposition in the aggregatenot, however, with my approbation ; but it is no less true that it was universally known that it consisted of two distinct parties, dissimilar in principle and policy, except in relation to the object for which they had united : the national republican party, and the portion of the State rights party which had separated from the administration, on the ground that it had departed from the true principles of the original party. That I belonged exclusively to that detached portion, and to neither the opposition nor administration party, I prove by my explicit declaration, contained in one of the extracts read from my speech on the currency in 1834. That the party generally, and the State which I represent in part, stood aloof from both of the parties, may be established from the fact that they refused to mingle in the party and political contests of the day. My State withheld her electoral vote in two successive presidential elections ; and, rather than to bestow it on either the senator from Kentucky, or the distinguished citizen [Andrew Jackson] whom he opposed, in the first of those elections [in 1832], she threw her vote on a patriotic citizen of Virginia [John Floyd], since deceased, of her own politics ; but who was not a candidate ; and, in the last, she refused to give it to the worthy senator from Tennessee near me (Judge WHITE), though his principles and views of policy approach so much nearer to hers than that of the party to which the senator from Kentucky belongs.
And here, Mr. President, I avail myself of the opportunity to declare my present political position, so that there may be no mistake hereafter. I belong to the old Republican State Rights party of 1798. To that, and that alone, I owe fidelity, and by that I shall stand through every change, and in spite of every difficulty. Its creed is to be found in the Kentucky resolutions, and Virginia resolutions and report ; and its policy is to confine the action of this government within the narrowest limits compatible with the peace and security of these States, and the objects for which the Union was expressly formed. I, as one of that party, shall support all who support its principles and policy, and oppose all who oppose them. I have given, and shall continue to give, the administration a hearty and sincere support on the great question now under discussion, because I regard it as in strict conformity to our creed and policy ; and shall do every thing in my power to sustain them under the great responsibility which they have assumed. But let me tell those who are more interested in sustaining them than myself, that the danger which threatens them lies not here, but in another quarter. This measure will tend to uphold them, if they stand fast, and adhere to it with fidelity. But, if they wish to know where the danger is, let them look to the fiscal department of the government. I said, years ago, that we were committing an error the reverse of the great and dangerous one that was committed in 1828, and to which we owe our present difficulties, and all we have since experienced. Then we raised the revenue greatly, when the expenditures were about to be reduced by the discharge of the public debt ; and now we have doubled the disbursements when the revenue is rapidly decreasing ; an error, which, although probably not so fatal to the country, will prove, if immediate and vigorous measures be not adopted, far more so to those in power.
But the senator did not confine his attack to my conduct and motives in reference to the present question. In his eagerness to weaken the cause I support, by destroying confidence in me, he made an indiscriminate attack on my intellectual faculties, which he characterized as metaphysical, eccentric, too much of genius, and too little common sense ; and of course wanting a sound and practical judgment.
Mr. President, according to my opinion, there is nothing of which those who are endowed with superior mental faculties ought to be more cautious, than to reproach those with their deficiency to whom Providence has been less liberal. The faculties of our mind are the immediate gift of our Creator, for which we are no farther responsible than for their proper cultivation, according to our opportunities, and their proper application to control and regulate our actions. Thus thinking, I trust I shall be the last to assume superiority on my part, or reproach any one with inferiority on his ; but those who do not regard the rule, when applied to others, cannot expect it to be observed when applied to themselves. The critic must expect to be criticised ; and he who points out the faults of others, to have his own pointed out.
I cannot retort on the senator the charge of being metaphysical. I cannot accuse him of possessing the powers of analysis and generalization, those higher faculties of the mind (called metaphysical by those who do not possess them), which decompose and resolve into their elements the complex masses of ideas that exist in the world of mindas chemistry does the bodies that surround us in the material world ; and without which those deep and hidden causes which are in constant action, and producing such mighty changes in the condition of society, would operate unseen and undetected. The absence of these higher qualities of the mind is conspicuous throughout the whole course of the senators public life. To this it may be traced that he prefers the specious to the solid, and the plausible to the true. To the same cause, combined with an ardent temperament, it is owing that we ever find him mounted on some popular and favorite measure, which he whips along, cheered by the shouts of the multitude, and never dismounts till he has rode it down. Thus, at one time, we find him mounted on the protective system, which he rode down ; at another, on internal improvement ; and now he is mounted on a bank, which will surely share the same fate, unless those who are immediately interested shall stop him in his headlong career. It is the fault of his mind to seize on a few prominent and striking advantages, and to pursue them eagerly with out looking to consequences. Thus, in the case of the protective system, he was struck with the advantages of manufactures ; and, believing that high duties was the proper mode of protecting them, he pushed forward the system, without seeing that he was enriching one portion of the country at the expense of the other ; corrupting the one and alienating the other ; and, finally, dividing the community into two great hostile interests, which terminated in the overthrow of the system itself. So, now, he looks only to a uniform currency, and a bank as the means of securing it, without once reflecting how far the banking system has progressed, and the difficulties that impede its farther progress ; that banking and politics are running together to their mutual destruction ; and that the only possible mode of saving his favorite system is to separate it from the government.
To the defects of understanding, which the senator attributes to me, I make no reply. It is for others, and not me, to determine the portion of understanding which it has pleased the Author of my being to bestow on me. It is, however, fortunate for me, that the standard by which I shall be judged is not the false, prejudiced, and, as I have shown, unfounded opinion which the senator has expressed ; but my acts. They furnish materials, neither few nor scant, to form a just estimate of my mental faculties. I have now been more than twenty-six years continuously in the service of this government, in various stations, and have taken part in almost all the great questions which have agitated this country during this long and important period. Throughout the whole I have never followed events, but have taken my stand in advance, openly and freely avowing my opinions on all questions, and leaving it to time and experience to condemn or approve my course. Thus acting, I have often, and on great questions, separated from those with whom I usually acted, and if I am really so defective in sound and practical judgment as the senator represents, the proof, if to be found any where, must be found in such instances, or where I have acted on my sole responsibility. Now, I ask, in which of the many instances of the kind is such proof to be found ? It is not my intention to call to the recollection of the Senate all such ; but that you, senators, may judge for yourselves, it is due in justice to myself, that I should suggest a few of the most prominent, which at the time were regarded as the senator now considers the present ; and then, as now, because where duty is involved, I would not submit to party trammels.
I go back to the commencement of my public life, the war session, as it was usually called, of 1812, when I first took my seat in the other House, a young man, without experience to guide me, and I shall select, as the first instance, the Navy. At that time the administration and the party to which I was strongly attached were decidedly opposed to this important arm of service. It was considered anti-republican to support it ; but acting with my then distinguished colleague, Mr. Cheves, who led the way, I did not hesitate to give it my hearty support, regardless of party ties. Does this instance sustain the charge of the senator ?
The next I shall select is the restrictive system of that day, the embargo, the non-importation and non-intercourse acts. This, too, was a party measure which had been long and warmly contested, and of course the lines of party well drawn. Young and inexperienced as I was, I saw its defects, and resolutely opposed it, almost alone of my party. The second or third speech I made, after I took my seat, was in open denunciation of the system ; and I may refer to the grounds I then assumed, the truth of which have been confirmed by time and experience, with pride and confidence. This will scarcely be selected by the senator to make good his charge.
I pass over other instances, and come to Mr. Dallass bank of 1814-15. That, too, was a party measure. Banking was then comparatively but little understood, and it may seem astonishing, at this time, that such a project should ever have received any countenance or support. It proposed to create a bank of $50,000,000, to consist almost entirely of what was called then the war stocks ; that is, the public debt created in carrying on the then war. It was provided that the bank should not pay specie during the war, and for three years after its termination, for carrying on which it was to lend the government the funds. In plain language, the government was to borrow back its own credit from the bank, and pay to the institution six per cent. for its use. I had scarcely ever before seriously thought of banks or banking, but I clearly saw through the operation, and the danger to the government and country ; and, regardless of party ties or denunciations, I opposed and defeated it in the manner I explained at the extra session. I then subjected myself to the very charge which the senator now makes ; but time has done me justice, as it will in the present instance.
Passing the intervening instances, I come down to my administration of the War Department, where I acted on my own judgment and responsibility. It is known to all, that the department, at that time, was perfectly disorganized, with not much less than $50,000,000 of outstanding and unsettled accounts ; and the greatest confusion in every branch of service. Though without experience, I prepared, shortly after I went in, the bill for its organization, and on its passage I drew up the body of rules for carrying the act into execution ; both of which remain substantially unchanged to this day. After reducing the outstanding accounts to a few millions, and introducing order and accountability in every branch of service, and bringing down the expenditure of the army from four to two and a half millions annually, without subtracting a single comfort from either officer or soldier, I left the department in a condition that might well be compared to the best in any country. If I am deficient in the qualities which the senator attributes to me, here in this mass of details and business it ought to be discovered. Will he look to this to make good his charge ?
From the war department I was transferred to the Chair which you now occupy. How I acquitted myself in the discharge of its duties, I leave it to the body to decide, without adding a word. The station, from its leisure, gave me a good opportunity to study the genius of the prominent measure of the day, called then the American system ; of which I profited. I soon perceived where its errors lay, and how it would operate. I clearly saw its desolating effects in one section, and corrupting influence in the other ; and when I saw that it could not be arrested here, I fell back on my own State, and a blow was given to a system destined to destroy our institutions, if not overthrown, which brought it to the ground. This brings me down to the present times, and where passions and prejudices are yet too strong to make an appeal, with any prospect of a fair and impartial verdict. I then transfer this, and all my subsequent acts, including the present, to the tribunal of posterity ; with a perfect confidence that nothing will be found, in what I have said or done, to impeach my integrity or understanding.
I have now, senators, repelled the attacks on me. I have settled the account and cancel led the debt between me and my accuser. I have not sought this controversy, nor have I shunned it when forced on me. I have acted on the defensive, and if it is to continue, which rests with the senator, I shall throughout continue so to act. I know too well the advantage of my position to surrender it. The senator commenced the controversy, and it is but right that he should be responsible for the direction it shall hereafter take. Be his determination what it may, I stand prepared to meet him.