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of the tariff of 1842. At a moment when the public finances were, in reference to the means of collection, custody, and transfer, in a sound and healthy condition, the administration deemed it expedient to subject the country and the treasury to the hazard and inconvenience of a change. Mr. Webster spoke with equal earnestness and power against the renewal of experiments which had already proved so disastrous; but the bill was carried by a party vote. The same success attended the President's recommendation of an entire change in the revenue system, by which, instead of specific duties, ad valorem duties were to be assessed on the foreign valuation. Various other changes were made in the tariff established in 1812, equally tending to depress our own manufactures, and to give a preference to foreign over native labor, and this even in cases where no benefit could be expected to accrue to the treasury from the change. Mr. Webster made a truly Herculean effort against the government project, in his speech of the 25th and 26th of July, 1846, but the decree had gone forth. The scale was turned by the Senators from the new State of Texas, which had been brought into the Union by the votes of members of Congress whose constituents had the deepest interest in sustaining the tariff of 1812.
In the spring of 1847, after the adjournment of Congress, Mr. Webster undertook a tour to the South. His object was to pass by the way of the Atlantic States to New Orleans, and to ascend the Mississippi. He had never seen that part of the Union, and promised himself equal gratification and instruction from an opportunity, however brief, of personal inspection. He was ever of opinion that higher motives than those of curiosity and recreation should lead the citizens of different parts of the country to the interchange of visits of this kind. That they had become so much less frequent than they were in former years he regarded as one of the inauspicious features of the times. He was accompanied on this excursion by his family. They passed hastily through Virginia and North Carolina to South Carolina. At Charleston he was received with the most distin. guished attention and cordiality. He was welcomed on his arrival by an assemblage of the most respectable citizens. Entertainments were given him by the New England Society of Charleston and by the Charleston Bar. At these festivals the
sentiments and speeches were of the most cordial description. Similar hospitalities and honors were paid him at Columbia, Augusta, and Savannah. No trace of sectional or party feeling detracted from the warmth of his reception. His visit was ev. erywhere regarded as an interesting public event. Unhappily, his health failed him on his arrival at Savannah; and the advance of the season made it impossible for him to execute the original project of a journey to New Orleans. He was compelled to hasten back to the North.
Meantime events of higher importance were in progress. Success crowned our arms in the Mexican war.
The military skill, gallantry, and indomitable resolution of the great captains to whom the chief command of the war had been committed, (though not by the first choice of the administration,) aided by the spirit and discipline of the troops, achieved the conquest of Mexico. Peace was dictated to her from Washington, and a treaty concluded, by which extensive portions of her territory, comprising the province of New Mexico and a considerable part of California, were ceded to the United States. Mr. Webster, foreseeing that these cessions would prove a Pandora's box of discord and strife between the different sections of the Union, voted against the ratification of the treaty. He was sustained in this course by some Southern Whig Senators, but the constitutional majority deemed any treaty better than the continua. tion of the war.
With the restoration of peace, the question what should be done with the territories presented itself with alarming prominence. Formidable under any circumstances, it became doubly so in consequence of the discovery of gold in California, and the prodigious rush to that quarter of adventurers from every part of the world. Population flocked into and took possession of the country, its ancient political organization, feeble at best, was subverted, and the immediate action of Congress was necessary to prevent a state of anarchy. . The House of Representatives passed a bill providing for the organization of a territorial gove ernment for the provinces newly acquired from Mexico, with the antislavery proviso, borrowed from the Ordinance of 1787. This bill failed to pass the Senate, and nothing was done at the first session of the Thirtieth Congress to meet the existing emergency in California.
At the second session, bills were introduced into the Senate for erecting California and New Mexico into States; the question of slavery to be left to the people of the States respectively. These bills, however, did not pass the Senate. A few days before the close of the session, Mr. Walker of Wisconsin moved an amendment to the general appropriation bill for the support of government, providing for the extension of the revenue laws of the United States over California and New Mexico; to extend the provisions of the Constitution of the United States to these territories, together with all the laws applicable to them; and granting authority to the President to appoint the officers necessary to carry these provisions into effect. This amendment prevailed in the Senate, but was further amended in the House, by adding to it the “ Wilmot Proviso.” The Senate re
. fused to accede to this amendment of their amendment, and the two houses were brought to the verge of a disagreement, which would have prevented the passage of the general appropriation bill, and stopped the wheels of government. The debates in the Senate were of the most impassioned kind, and were protracted till five o'clock of Sunday morning, the 4th of March; when the Senate, on the suggestion of Mr. Webster, disagreed to the amendment of the House relative to California, and at the same time receded from their own amendment, and thus passed the general appropriation bill, as it originally came from the House. All provision for the territories was necessarily sacrificed by this course; but a bill which had previously passed the House, extending the revenue laws of the United States to California, was passed by the Senate, and rescued the people of California from an entire destitution of government on behalf of the United States. The Senate on this occasion was, for the first time since the adoption of the Constitution, on the verge of disorganization; and it was felt throughout the day and night, that it was saved from falling into that condition mainly by the parliamentary tact and personal influence of Mr. Webster. This tribute was paid to Mr. Webster's arduous exertions on that occasion by a member of Congress warmly opposed to him.
Not the least important consequence of the Mexican war was the political revolution in the United States of which it was the
When the policy of invading and conquering Mexico
was determined upon, it was probably regarded by the administration as a measure calculated to strengthen their party. Opponents were likely to expose themselves to odium by disapproving the war. The commanding generals were both Whigs, and one of them had been named as a candidate for the Presidency. It was probably thought that, if they succeeded, the glory would accrue to the administration; if they failed, the discredit would fall upon themselves.
If anticipations like these were formed, they were signally disappointed. A series of the most brilliant triumphs crowned the arms both of General Taylor and General Scott. Those of General Taylor were first in time; and as they had been preceded by doubts, anxieties, and, in the case of Buena Vista, by rumors of disaster, they took the stronger hold of the public mind. The nomination for the Presidency was not reserved for the Whig convention. It was in effect made at Palto Alto and Monterey, and was confirmed at Buena Vista. It was a movement of the people to which resistance was in vain.
Statesmen and civilians, however, might well pause for a moment. The late experience of the country, under a President elected in consequence of military popularity, was not favorable to a repetition of the experiment; and General Taylor was wholly unknown in political life. At the Whig convention in Philadelphia other distinguished Whigs, General Scott, Mr. Clay, and Mr. Webster, had divided the votes with General Taylor. He was, however, selected by a great majority as the candidate of the party.
Mr. Webster took the view of this nomination which might have been expected from a veteran statesman and a civilian of forty years' experience in the service of the country.
He had, in common with the whole Whig party, in General Jackson's case, opposed the nomination of a military chieftain. How many Whigs, who hailed General Taylor's nomination with enthusiasm had as good reasons for so doing as Mr. Webster had for the moderation and reserve with which he spoke of it in his Marshfield speech? Few persons, at the present day, will find in that speech any thing, with respect to General Taylor's nomination, from which a candid and impartial judgment would dissent; and it is well known, that, in the progress of the canvass, that nomination found no firmer supporter than Mr. Webster. On his accession to the
Presidency, General Taylor found Mr. Webster disposed and prepared to give his administration a cordial and efficient support.
In the summer and autumn of 1819 events of the utmost importance occurred in California. The people of that region, left almost entirely without a government by Congress, met in convention to form a constitution; and although nearly the members who were new-comers were from the Southern States, they unanimously agreed to the prohibition of slavery. The constitution prepared by the convention was accepted by the people, and with it they applied for admission to the Union. General Riley, who had been appointed by the President to command the forces in that territory, was instructed to facilitate, as far as it was in his power, the assembling of a convention; and the course pursued by the convention and the people in the formation of the constitution was understood to be in all respects approved by President Taylor.
Other occurrences, however, had in the mean time taken place, which materially increased the difficulties attending the territorial question. The subject of slavery had for fifteen or twenty years been agitated with steadily increasing warmth, and for the latter portion of the period with growing violence. On the acquisition of the Mexican provinces, the representatives of the non-slaveholding States generally deemed it their duty to introduce into the acts passed for their government a restriction analogous to the antislavery proviso of the Ordinance of 1787. A motion to this effect having been made by Mr. Wilmot of Pennsylvania, by way of amendment to one of the appropriation bills passed during the war, the restriction has obtained the name of the “ Wilmot Proviso." This motion in the House of Representatives was extensively seconded by the press, by popular assemblies, and by legislative resolutions throughout the non-slaveholding States, and caused a considerable increase of antislavery agitation.
The South, of course, took an interest in the question not inferior to that of the North. The extension of the United States on the southwestern frontier has long been a cardinal point in the policy of most Southern statesmen. The application of an antislavery proviso to territories acquired by conquest in that quarter came into direct conflict with this policy. Meet