« ÎnapoiContinuați »
the defects of the existing laws. He accordingly drew up what finally passed the two houses, as the sixty-fifth chapter of the laws of the second session of the Eighteenth Congress, and procured the assent of the Committee on the Judiciary to report it to the House. Some amendments of no great moment were made to it on its passage, partly on the motion of Mr. Webster himself, and partly on the suggestion of other members of the House. As it finally passed, in twenty-six sections, it covered all the cases which had occurred in the thirty-five years which had elapsed since the law of 1790 was enacted; and it amounted to a brief, but comprehensive, code of the criminal jurisprudence of the United States, as distinct from that the separate States.
It was Mr. Webster's object in this statute, not to enact theoretical reforms, but to remedy practical evils; to make provision for crimes which, for want of jurisdiction, had hitherto gone unpunished. It was objected to the bill, on its passage through the House, that it created a considerable number of capital offences. But these were already, in every case, capital offences either at common law or by the criminal law of the States, whenever the State tribunals were competent to take cognizance of them. It was the effect of Mr. Webster's act, not to create new offences, but to bring within the reach of a proper tribunal crimes recognized as such by all the codes of law, but which had hitherto escaped with impunity between separate jurisdictions. The bill was received with great favor by the House. Mr. Buchanan said that he highly approved its general features. “It was a disgrace,” he added, “to our system of laws, that no provision had ever been made for the punishment of the crimes which it embraced, when committed in places within the jurisdiction of the United States." An eloquent argument was made by Mr. Livingston of Louisiana in favor of substituting lower penalties for capital punishment, but he failed to satisfy the House of the expediency of so great a revolution in our criminal jurisprudence. Some slight modifications of the bill were conceded to the sensitiveness of those who apprehended encroachment on State jurisdiction; but it passed substantially in the form in which it was reported by Mr. Webster. Twenty-seven years' experience have shown it to be one of the most valuable laws in the statute-book.
At this session of Congress the election of a President of the United States devolved upon the House of Representatives, in default of a popular choice. The votes of the electoral colleges were ninety-nine for General Jackson, eighty-four for Mr. Adams, forty-one for Mr. Crawford, and thirty-seven for Mr. Clay. This was the second time since the adoption of the Constitution, in 1789, that such an event had occurred. The other case was in 1801, and under the Constitution in its original form, which required the electoral colleges to vote for two persons, without designating which of the two was to be President, and which Vice-President, the choice between the two to be decided by plurality. The Republican candidates, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, having received each an equal number of votes, it devolved upon the House of Representatives to designate one of them as President. The Constitution was immediately amended so as to require the candidates for the two offices to be designated as such in the electoral colleges; so that precisely such a case as that of 1801 can never recur. In 1824, however, no person having received a majority of all the votes, it became necessary for the House to choose a President from among the three candidates having the highest number. On these occasions the House votes, not per capita, but by States, the delegation of each State choosing its teller. Mr. Webster was appointed teller for the Massachusetts delegation. The number of States was twenty-four, and the tellers were seated in parties of twelve at two tables. Mr. Webster was appointed by the tellers at one of the tables to announce the result of the balloting; Mr. Randolph was appointed to the same service at the other table. The result was declared to be, for Mr. Adams thirteen votes, for General Jackson seven, and for Mr. Crawford four. The votes of most of the States were matters of confident calculation beforehand; those of Maryland and New York were in some degree doubtful. The former was supposed to depend upon the decision of Mr. Warfield; the latter on that of General Van Rensselaer. Mr. Webster possessed the political confidence of both these gentlemen; and is believed to have exerted a decisive influence in leading them to vote for Mr. Adarns.
Mr. Webster had been elected to the Nineteenth Congress in the autumn of 1824, by a vote of four thousand nine hundred
and ninety out of five thousand votes cast, the nearest approach to unanimity in a Congressional election, perhaps, that ever took place. The session which began in December, 1825, was of course the first session under Mr. Adams's administration. The brief armistice in party warfare which existed under Mr. Monroe was over. The friends of General Jackson en masse, most of the friends of Mr. Crawford, and a portion of those of Mr. Clay, joined in a violent opposition to the new administration. It would be impossible in this place to unfold the griefs, the interests, the projects, the jealousies, and the mutual struggles, of the leaders and the factions, who, with no community of political principle, entered into this warfare. The absence of any well-defined division of parties, like that which had formerly existed, gave wide scope to personal intrigue and sectional preference. Although, estimated in reference to individual suffrages, Mr. Adams had received a popular majority; and although he was selected from the three highest candidates by an absolute majority of the States voting in the House of Representatives, and by a very large plurality over both his competitors, yet, as General Jackson had received a small plurality of votes in the electoral colleges (but a little more, however, than a third part of the entire electoral vote), he stood before the masses as a candidate wrongfully deprived of the place to which he was designated by the popular choice. Great sensibility was evinced at this defeat of the “ Will of the People"; and none seemed to feel the wrong more than a portion of the friends of that one of the three candidates who had received the smallest vote, but whom there had been, nevertheless, a confident hope of electing in the House. The prejudice against Mr. Adams arising from this source derived strength from the widely circulated calumny of a corrupt understanding between him and Mr. Clay. The bare suspicion of an arrangement between party leaders to help each other into office, however groundless in point of fact, and however disproved by all the testimony which could be brought to bear on a negative proposition, was sufficient seriously to affect the popularity of both parties.
Great talent, the amplest civil experience, and the purest patriotism are an inadequate basis of strength for an administration. If the capricious and ill-defined element of what is called popularity is wanting, all else is of little avail. Mr. Adams's administration was conducted with the highest ability ; it was
; incorruptible; it was frugal; it was tolerant of opponents to its own injury. With the exception of half a dozen editors of newspapers warmly opposed to the administration, from whom the trifling privilege of printing the laws was withdrawn, no one was removed from office for political opinion. But the administration was unpopular, and was doomed from its formation. It was supported by very able men in both houses of Congress, and of these Mr. Webster was by all acknowledgment the chief. But it failed to command the confidence of a numerical majority of the people.
The leading measure of the first session of the Nineteenth Congress was the Congress of Panama. Mr. Adams had announced in his message at the commencement of the session, that an invitation to the congress had been accepted, and that “ministers on the part of the United States would be commissioned to attend its deliberations." In announcing this purpose, it is probable that the President regarded himself as within the ordinary limits of executive discretion. The power of nominating ambassadors and other public ministers is given by the Constitution to the President alone. No laws for the establishment of any particular missions have ever been passed, nor has any control been exercised over them by Congress beyond determining the salaries of the ministers of different ranks, and making the annual appropriations for their payment. The executive is manifestly the sole depositary of the knowledge of the foreign relations of the country which is necessary to determine what missions ought to be established. Notwithstanding these obvious considerations and constitutional principles, the novel and anomalous character of the proposed Congress afforded a temptation to the opposition too strong to be resisted. The President's announcement formed the great point of attack during the first session of the new Congress. The confirmation of the ministers was vigorously resisted in the Senate, and the resolution declaring the expediency of making the requisite appropriations as strenuously opposed in the House. The mischiefs likely to result from the public discussion of the measure showed the wisdom of those constitutional provisions on which the President had acted. The opposition, in denying that the executive control of foreign relations is exclusive, showed at any rate that it ought to be, at least as far as it is made so by the Constitution. After a lapse of twenty-six years, we can scarcely believe that any doubt should have existed, on the part of men of judgment and discretion, that sound policy required that the United States should be present at such a general conference of the American powers; if for no other reason, to observe their movements. But all the motives for such a course could not be avowed, and of those that could, a part of the force was weakened by the avowal. The influence of the United States was impaired in order that the administration might be distressed.
The subject was discussed with great ability in both houses. The greater portion of the senatorial debate was with closed doors. Mr. Webster's speech in the House is far the ablest of those published. It raised the question from the wretched level of party politics to the elevation of real statesmanship. It discussed the constitutional question with a clearness and power which make us wonder that it was ever raised; and it unfolded the true nature of the proposed congress, as viewed in the light of the public law. A very important topic of the speech was an explanation of the declaration of President Monroe, in his annual message of 1823, against the interposition of the governments of Europe for the purpose of enabling Spain to resubjugate her former colonial possessions on this continent. Mr. Webster pointed out the circumstances which warranted at the time the opinion that such interposition might be attempted; and he stated the important fact, not before known, that the purpose on the part of the United States to resist it was deliberately and unanimously formed by Mr. Monroe's cabinet, consisting at that time of Messrs. Adams, Crawford, Calhoun, Southard, and Wirt. The principles assumed in the debate on the Panama mission by the friends of Messrs. Crawford and Calhoun were greatly at variance with the spirit and tendency of the declaration, as they were with what has more recently been regarded as the true Democratic doctrine in reference to the relations of the United States to her sister republics on this continent.
The speech on the Panama question was the most considerable effort made by Mr. Webster in the Nineteenth Congress. In the interval of the two sessions, in November, 1826, he was