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well-known fact, which may teach all to entertain opinions on public questions with some distrust of their own judgment, that the tariff of 1816, containing the minimum duty on coarse cotton fabrics, the corner-stone of the protective system, was supported by Mr. Calhoun and a few other Southern members, and carried by their influence against the opposition of the New England members generally, including Mr. Webster. It has been stated, that, during the pendency of this law before Congress, he denied the constitutionality of a tariff for protection. This statement is inaccurate; although, had it been true, it would have placed him only in the same relation to the question with Mr. Calhoun and other Southern members, who at that time admitted the principle of protection, but lived to reject it as the grossest and most pernicious constitutional heresy. It would have shown only that, in a long political career, he had, on the first discussion of a new question, expressed an opinion which, in the lapse of time and under a change of circumstances, he had seen occasion to alter. This is no ground of just reproach. It has happened to every public man in every free country, who has been of importance enough to have his early opinions remembered. It has happened to a large portion of the prominent men at the South, in reference to almost every great question agitated within the last generation. The bank, internal improvements, a navy, the Colonization Society, the annexation of Texas, the power of Congress over the territories, this very question of the tariff, the doctrine of State rights generally, are subjects on which many prominent statesmen of the South, living or recently deceased, have in the course of their career entertained opposite views.
But it is not true that Mr. Webster in 1816 denied the constitutionality of a tariff for protection. In 1820, in discussing the subject in Faneuil Hall, he argued that, if the right of laying duties for protection were derived from the revenue power, it was of necessity incidental; and on that assumption, as the incident cannot go beyond that to which it is incidental, duties avowedly for protection, and not having any reference to revenue, could not be constitutionally laid. The hypothetical form of the statement shows a degree of indecision; while the proposition itself is not to be gainsaid. At a later period, and after it had been confidently stated, and satisfactorily shown by Mr. Madison, that the Federal Convention intended, under the provision for regulating commerce, to clothe Congress with the power of laying duties for the protection of manufactures; and after Congress had, by repeated laws, passed against the wishes of the navigating and strictly commercial interests, practically settled this constitutional question, and turned a vast amount of the capital of the country into the channel of manufactures; Mr. Webster considered a moderate degree of protection (such as would keep the home market steady under the occasional gluts in the foreign market, and shield the domestic manufacturer from the wholesale frauds of foreign importation) as the established policy of the United States; and he accordingly supported it. It is unnecessary to state, that this course has been pursued with the approbation of his constituents, and to the manifest good of the country. No change has taken place in Mr. Webster's opinions on the subject of protection which has not been generally shared and sanctioned by the intelligence of the manufacturing States. There are strong indications, even, that in the Southern States the superiority of the home market over the foreign is beginning to be felt.
Mr. Webster took an active and efficient part, at the first session of the Fourteenth Congress, in the debates on the charter of the Bank of the United States, which passed Congress in April, 1816. While the bill was before the House, he moved and carried several amendments similar to those which he had caused to be introduced into the bill of the former year. He exerted himself in vain, however, against the participation of the government in its management, and, in common with several independent members usually supporting the administration, he voted against it on its passage. Among the amendments to the bill, of which Mr. Webster procured the adoption, was one which required deposits, as well as the notes of the bank, to be paid on demand in specie.
But the great service rendered by Mr. Webster to the currency of the country in the Fourteenth Congress was in procuring the adoption of the specie resolution, in virtue of which, from and after the 20th of February, 1817, all debts due to the treasury were required to be paid in the legal currency of the country (gold or silver), in treasury notes, or the notes of the Bank of the United States, or in notes of banks which are pay. able and paid on demand in the same legal currency. This service can hardly be appreciated at the present day by those too young to recollect the state of things existing in this respect during the war and after its close. This resolution passed the two houses, and was approved by the President on the 30th of April, 1816. It completely accomplished its object; and that object was to restore to a sound basis the currency of the country, and to give the people a uniform circulating medium. Of this they were destitute at the close of the war. All the banks, except those of the New England States, had suspended specie payments; but their depreciated bills were permitted by general consent, and within certain limits, to circulate as money. They were received of each other by the different banks; they passed from hand to hand; and even the public revenue was collected at par in this degraded paper.
The rate of deprecia. tion was different in different States, and with different banks in the same States, according as greater or less advantage had been taken of the suspension of the specie obligation.
What was not less harassing than this diversity was the uncertainty everywhere prevailing, how far the reputed rate of depreciation in any particular case might represent justly the real condition of a bank or set of banks. In other words, men were obliged to make and receive payments in a currency of which, at the time, the value was not certainly known to them, and which might vary as it was passing through their hands. The enormous injustice suffered by the citizens of different States, in being obliged to pay their dues at the custom-houses in as many different currencies as there were States, varying at least twenty-five per cent. between Boston and Richmond, need not be pointed out. For all these mischiefs the resolution of Mr. Webster afforded a remedy as efficient as simple ; and what chiefly moves our astonishment at the present day is, that a measure of this kind, demanded by the first principles of finance, overlooked by the executive and its leading friends in Congress, should be left to be brought forward by one of its youngest members, and he not belonging to the supporters of the administration. But commanding talent and profound knowledge of the subjects to be treated vindicate to themselves a position in public bodies, which official relations can neither confer nor take away
It would not be easy to name a political
measure, in the history of the government, which has accomplished its design with greater simplicity and directness; and that design one of paramount importance to the country, and coming home to the business of every individual.
In all the other public measures brought forward in this Congress for meeting the new conditions of the country, Mr. Webster bore an active part, but they furnish no topic requiring illustration. At the close of the first session, in August, 1816, he executed the project to which we have already alluded of removing to a wider professional field. After some hesitation he decided on Boston, in which and its vicinity he has ever since made his home. He had established friendly relations here at an early period of life. In no part of the Union was his national reputation more cordially recognized than in the metropolis of New England. He took at once the place in his profes
. sion which belonged to his commanding talent and legal emi. nence, and was welcomed into every circle of social life.
Professional Character particularly in Reference to Constitutional Law. – The Dart
mouth College Case argued at Washington in 1818. - Mr. Ticknor's Description of that Argument. — The Case of Gibbons and Ogden in 1824. – Mr. Justice Wayne's Allusion to that Case in 1847. The Case of Ogden and Saunders in 1827. — The Case of the Proprietors of the Charles River Bridge. — The Alabama Bank Case. — The Case relative to the Boundary between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. - The Girard Will Case. — The Case of the Constitution of Rhode Island. - General Remarks on Mr. Webster's Practice in the Supreme Court of the United States. — Practice in the State Courts. — The Case of Goodridge, - and the Case of Knapp.
With Mr. Webster's removal to Boston commenced a period of five or six years' retirement from active political life, during which time, with a single exception which will be hereafter alluded to, he filled no public office, and devoted himself exclusively to the duties of his profession. It was accordingly within this period that his reputation as a lawyer was fixed and established. The promise of his youth, and the expectations of those who had known him as a student, were more than fulfilled. He took a position as a counsellor and an advocate, above which no one has ever risen in the country. A large share of the best business of New England passed into his hands; and the veterans of the Boston bar admitted him to an entire equality of standing, repute, and influence.
Besides the reputation which he acquired in the ordinary routine of practice, Mr. Webster, shortly after his removal to Boston, took the lead in establishing what might almost be called a new school of constitutional law. It fell to his lot to perform a prominent part in unfolding a most important class of constitutional doctrines, which, either because occasion had not drawn them forth, or the jurists of a former period had failed to deduce and apply them, had not yet grown into a system. It was reserved for Mr. Webster to distinguish himself before most, if not all, of his contemporaries, in this branch of his profession. It may be mentioned as a somewhat curious coincidence, that the case in which he made his first great effort in this direction arose in his native State, and concerned the College in which he had been educated.
In the months of June and December, 1816, the legislature of