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PRESENTATION OF A VASE.*

MR. CHAIRMAN AND GENTLEMEN :- I accept, with grateful respect, the present which it is your pleasure to make. I value it. It bears an expression of your regard for those political principles which I have endeavored to maintain ; and though the material were less costly, or the workmanship less elegant, any durable evidence of your approbation could not but give me high satisfaction.

This approbation is the more gratifying, as it is not bestowed for services connected with local questions, or local interests, or which are supposed to have been peculiarly beneficial to yourselves, but for efforts which had the interests of the whole country for their object, and which were useful, if useful at all, to all who live under the blessings of the Constitution and government of the United States.

It is twelve or thirteen years, Gentlemen, since I was honored with a seat in Congress, by the choice of the citizens of Boston. They saw fit to repeat that choice more than once; and I embrace, with pleasure, this opportunity of expressing to them my sincere and profound sense of obligation for these manifestations of confidence. At a later period, the Legislature of the State saw fit to transfer me to another place; † and have again renewed the trust, under circumstances which I have felt to impose upon me new obligations of duty, and an increased devotion to the political welfare of the country. These twelve or thirteen years, Gentlemen, have been years of labor, and not without sacrifices; but both have been more than compensated

Speech delivered in the Odeon, at Boston, on Occasion of the Presentation of a Vase by Citizens of that Place, on the 12th of October, 1835.

† The Senate of the United States. VOL. I.

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by the kindness, the good-will, and the favorable interpretation with which my discharge of official duties has been received. In this changing world, we can hardly say that we possess what is present, and the future is all unknown. But the past is ours. Its acquisitions, and its enjoyments, are safe. And among these acquisitions, among the treasures of the past most to be cherished and preserved, I shall ever reckon the proofs of esteem and confidence which I have received from the citizens of Bos. ton and the Legislature of Massachusetts.

In one respect, Gentlemen, your present oppresses me. It overcomes me by its tone of commendation. It assigns to me a character of which I feel I am not worthy. “ The Defender of the Constitution” is a title quite too high for me. He who shall

prove himself the ablest among the able men of the country, he who shall serve it longest among those who may serve it long, he on whose labors all the stars of benignant fortune shall shed their selectest influence, will have praise enough, and reward enough, if, at the end of his political and earthly career, though that career may have been as bright as the track of the sun across the sky, the marble under which he sleeps, and that much better record, the grateful breasts of his living countrymen, shall pronounce him “the Defender of the Constitution.” It is enough for me, Gentlemen, to be connected, in the most humble manner, with the defence and maintenance of this great wonder of modern times, and this certain wonder of all future times. It is enough for me to stand in the ranks, and only to be counted as one of its defenders.

The Constitution of the United States, I am confident, will protect the name and the memory both of its founders and of its friends, even of its humblest friends. It will impart to both something of its own ever memorable and enduring distinction; I had almost said, something of its own everlasting remembrance. Centuries hence, when the vicissitudes of human affairs shall have broken it, if ever they shall break it, into fragments, these very fragments, every shattered column, every displaced foundation-stone, shall yet be sure to bring them all into recollection, and attract to them the respect and gratitude of mankind.

Gentlemen, it is to pay respect to this Constitution, it is to manifest your attachment to it, your sense of its value, and your devotion to its true principles, that you have sought this occasion. It is not to pay an ostentatious personal compliment. If it were, it would be unworthy both of you and of me. It is not to manifest attachment to individuals, independent of all considerations of principles; if it were, I should feel it my duty to tell you, friends as you are, that you were doing that which, at this very moment, constitutes one of the most threatening dangers to the Constitution itself. Your gift would have no value in my eyes, this occasion would be regarded by me as an idle pageant, if I did not know that they are both but modes, chosen by you, to signify your attachment to the true principles of the Constitution; your fixed purpose, so far as in you lies, to maintain those principles; and your resolution to support public men, and stand by them, so long as they shall support and stand by the Constitution of the country, and no longer.

“ The Constitution of the country!” Gentlemen, often as I am called to contemplate this subject, its importance always rises, and magnifies itself more and more, before me. I cannot view its preservation as a concern of narrow extent, or temporary duration. On the contrary, I see in it a vast interest, which is to run down with the generations of men, and to spread over a great portion of the earth with a direct, and over the rest with an indirect, but a most powerful influence. When I speak of it here, in this thick crowd of fellow-citizens and friends, I yet behold, thronging about me, a much larger and more imposing crowd. I see a united rush of the present and the future. I see all the patriotic of our own land, and

own time. I see also the many millions of their posterity, and I see, too, the lovers of human liberty from every part of the earth, from beneath the oppressions of thrones, and hierarchies, and dynasties, from amidst the darkness of ignorance, degradation, and despotism, into which any ray of political light has penetrated; I see all those countless multitudes gather about us, and I hear their united and earnest voices, conjuring us, in whose charge the treasure now is, to hold on, and hold on to the last, by that which is our own highest enjoyment and their best hope.

Filled with these sentiments, Gentlemen, and having through my political life hitherto always acted under the deepest conviction of their truth and importance, it is natural that I should have regarded the preservation of the Constitution as the first

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great political object to be secured. But I claim no exclusive merit. I should deem it, especially, both unbecoming and unjust in me to separate myself, in this respect, from other public servants of the people of Massachusetts. The distinguished gentlemen who have preceded and followed me in the representation of the city, their associates from other districts of the State, and my late worthy and most highly esteemed colleague, are entitled, one and all, to a full share in the public approbation. If accidental circumstances, or a particular position, have sometimes rendered me more prominent, equal patriotism and equal zeal have yet made them equally deserving. It were invidious to enumerate these fellow-laborers, or to discriminate among them. Long may they live! and I could hardly express ter wish for the interest and honor of the States, than that the public men who may follow them may be as disinterested, as patriotic, and as able as they have proved themselves.

There have been, Gentlemen, it is true, anxious moments. That was an anxious occasion, to which the gentleman who has addressed me in your behalf has alluded; I mean the debate in January, 1830. It seemed to me then that the Constitution was about to be abandoned. Threatened with most serious dangers, it was not only not defended, but attacked, as I thought, and weakened and wounded in its vital powers and faculties, by those to whom the country naturally looks for its defence and protection. It appeared to me that the Union was about to go to pieces, before the people were at all aware of the extent of the danger. The occasion was not sought, but forced upon us; it seemed to me momentous, and I confess that I felt that even the little that I could do, in such a crisis, was called for by every motive which could be addressed to a lover of the Constitution. I took a part in the debate, therefore, with my whole heart already in the subject, and careless for every thing in the result, except the judgment which the people of the United States should form upon the questions involved in the discussion. believe that judgment has been definitely pronounced; but nothing is due to me, beyond the merit of having made an earnest effort to present the true question to the people, and to invoke for it that attention from them, which its high importance appeared to me to demand.

The Constitution of the United States, Gentlemen, is of a peculiar structure. Our whole system is peculiar. It is fash

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ioned according to no existing model, likened to no precedent, and yet founded on principles which lie at the foundations of all free governments, wherever such governments exist.

It is a complicated system. It is elaborate, and in some sense artificial, in its composition. We have twenty-four State sovereignties, all exercising legislative, judicial, and executive powers. Some of the sovereignties, or States, had long existed, and, subject only to the restraint of the power of the parent country, had been accustomed to the forms and to the exercise of the powers of representative republics. Others of them are new creations, coming into existence only under the Constitution itself; but all now standing on an equal footing.

The general government, under which all these States are united, is not, as has been justly remarked by Mr. Gray, a confederation. It is much more than a confederation.

It is a popular representative government, with all the departments, and all the functions and organs, of such a government. But it is still a limited, a restrained, a severely-guarded government. It exists under a written constitution, and all that human wisdom could do is done, to define its powers and to prevent their abuse. It is placed in what was supposed to be the safest medium between dangerous authority on the one hand, and debility and inefficiency on the other. I think that happy medium was found, by the exercise of the greatest political sagacity, and the influence of the highest good fortune. We cannot move the system either way, without the probability of hurtful change; and as experience has taught us its safety, and its usefulness, when left where it is, our duty is a plain one.

It cannot be doubted that a system thus complicated must be accompanied by more or less of danger, in every stage of its existence. It has not the simplicity of despotism. It is not a plain column, that stands self-poised and self-supported. Nor is it a loose, irregular, unfixed, and undefined system of rule, which admits of constant and violent changes, without losing its character. But it is a balanced and guarded system; a system of checks and controls; a system in which powers are carefully delegated, and as carefully limited; a system in which the symmetry of the parts is designed to produce an aggregate whole, which shall be favorable to personal liberty, favorable to public prosperity, and favorable to national glory. And who can deny,

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