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HON. HENRY WASHINGTON HILLIARD,
THE reputation of the public men of every country is the property of the nation, and illustrates the character of the government. This is especially so in the United States, where the invigorating influence of our free institutions is displayed in the lives of those who, deriving no aid from wealth or powerful connections, rise from the level of common exertion to distinction, and reach stations which interest the whole country in their history.
The position which the Hon. Henry W. Hilliard has attained among the public men of the United States, is another instance of this influence which our brief history has furnished, and will make the following sketch of his life, up to the present moment, acceptable to our readers in every part of the country. He is a native of North Carolina, but shortly after his birth his parents removed to Columbia, in the State of South Carolina, where he grew up to man's estate. He was educated at the South Carolina College-an institution justly celebrated for the learning of its faculty, the number of distinguished men who have taken its degrees, and the enlightened patronage which it receives from the State. He graduated with distinction at eighteen; and, as a proof of the early bias of his mind towards politics, it may be stated that the oration which he delivered on the occasion had for its subject, "The tendency of the American Government to exalt the character of its people." In his youth he enjoyed the rare advantage of associating with men of mature minds, who had already reached distinction, but who extended to one whose aspirations after honorable preferment, and whose strong sympathy with intellectual exertion even then interested them, a friendship which cheered and stimulated him; such men as Preston, Legarè, and others, who, at that time, exhibited in the Legislature of South Carolina, those great
powers that have since earned for them the noblest national fame.
Mr. Hilliard, after leaving college, entered immediately upon the study of the law, which he prosecuted for some time in Columbia; but a desire to engage as early as possible in the practice in a new field, induced him to remove to Georgia, where he continued the study for nearly two years longer in the office of Judge Clayton, at Athens. Within a few days after reaching his twenty-first year, he was admitted to the Bar. At that time, when about to enter upon the career of manhood, he adopted those religious sentiments which he still entertains, and connected himself with the Methodist Episcopal Church-a church characterized by the earnestness of its faith, and the strong resemblance of some of its usages to Puritan habits. Of this Church he has ever since continued a member, engaging in its service, and unhesitatingly complying with its forms, which enjoin upon him the duty of proclaiming, at times in public, the truths of the Christian system. He commenced the practice of law; but in a few months he was invited to fill a chair in the University of Alabama, and one of the subjects confided to him was the Constitution of the United States. After two or three years of service there, which he employed not only in instruction but in study, he resigned his appointment. Shortly after, having removed to Montgomery, he resumed the practice of his profession with great success.
In 1838 the political course of Mr. Hilliard begins. The Hon. Dixon H. Lewis at that time represented the Montgomery district in Congress, and, having adopted Mr. Calhoun's plan of the SubTreasury question, he undertook, upon his return home, to bring his constituents to the support of that measure in a series of able numbers which he published over the
signature of a "Nullifier." Most of the aspiring men of that part of Alabama fell in with Mr. Lewis' opinions; but Mr. Hilliard offered to them a very vigorous opposition. He replied to the articles of Mr. Lewis as they appeared, in the leading Whig paper of Montgomery, in six letters, over the signature of "Junius Brutus ;" and he succeeded in rallying the great body of the Whig party against the doctrines which Mr. Lewis vainly strove to establish. These papers attracted great attention; and while Mr. Lewis' numbers were attributed to "a determination on the part of certain politicians of the extra session to bring over the nullifiers to the support of Mr. Van Buren's administration," Mr. Hilliard's replies were hailed
an argumentative and eloquent refutation of Mr. Lewis' views." In the summer of 1838, Mr. Hilliard was elected to a seat in the Legislature of his State, after an animated contest; and the triumph was regarded with pleasure, even in South Carolina, where the discussion to which we have referred had been observed with much interest. The most important paper published in Columbia expressed high gratification at the success "of the leading champion of the cause in refuting the arguments in Mr. Dixon Lewis' papers;" and it added, "the election of Mr. Hilliard is the decision of the controversy between Junius Brutus' (Mr. Hilliard) and 'A Nullifier;' (Mr. Lewis ;) and this deed of the stripling with his sling and pebble, is an earnest of his future success. Mr. Hilliard is of our college-he left us some years since, carrying with him the best wishes and the high expectation of this community." Judge Smith, who had previously distinguished himself as a Senator of the United States from South Carolina, was, at that time, a member of the Alabama Legislature; and, in an elaborate speech, he urged that body to adopt resolutions instructing the Senators from that State to give their support to the SubTreasury scheme. The task of replying to him was assigned to Mr. Hilliard by his political friends in the House; and the manner in which he acquitted himself heightened the reputation which he had before acquired. His argument was a full one; and we find his views of the doctrine of instruction, as applied to Senators in
Congress, expressed with so much justness and force, that we regret our limited space will not allow us to quote them at length.
After adverting to Edmund Burke's splendid and philosophical exposition of the relation existing between the representative and his constituents, he proceeded to argue that the responsibility of a Senator of the United States to the Legislature of a State, was a peculiar and limited one. "It was the aim of the Constitution to ensure to the Senate of the United States a fixed and steady policy, to protect the exercise of an enlightened and independent judgment, and to encourage the influence of lofty and expanded considerations. In the representative branch of the National Legislature, every popular feeling, and even prejudice, is expected to be felt and exhibited; coming from the great body of the people, directly responsible to them, and holding offices for so brief a season, they are supposed to feel sensitively, and to reflect most faithfully every fluctuation in public sentiment. But the waves of popular commotion, which will sometimes, in the purest republics, and among the most generous people, rise too suddenly and mount too high, are expected to dash and break at the feet of a calm and unmoved Senate." Against the political features of the Sub-Treasury scheme, his argument was a triumphant one. He insisted that the Treasury Department should be under the control of Congress, and as little dependent as possible on the President; that "among the powers assigned to Congress, is the control of the public funds, in itself a very high trust. They [the representatives of the people] are to guard the treasure of the nation with unrelaxing vigilance, and no appropriation can be made without their action. It will at once be seen how deeply this arrangement concerns popular liberty, and any measure which proposes to disturb this adjustment of power, is condemned by the Constitution, and is hostile to the dearest public interests." Mr. Hilliard served but one session in the Legislature-professional engagements inducing him to decline a reelection. He took part, however, in the great contest of 1840. Having urged in the Harrisburg Convention, of which he was a member, the nomination of Mr. Clay without success, he returned to Ala
bama and threw himself into the contest for Gen. Harrison with his characteristic energy. Being the elector for his district, he canvassed it thoroughly, and carried it by an overwhelming majority for the Whig candidates. So powerful an impulse was given to the cause that it rolled its triumphant tide over South Alabama, and shook the mountain fastnesses of the northern portion of that State. In Georgia, too, Mr. Hilliard exerted himself, with the greatest success, for the interests of the Whig party.
his resignation was accepted because it had been repeatedly tendered, and that his conduct was entirely approved. On his return he took part in the contest then going on, and warmly advocated the election of Mr. Clay. In the spring of the next year he was brought out as a candidate for Congress.
The Montgomery district was, at that time, represented by a democrat; and the task of redeeming it was not a light one. Mr. Hilliard was, however, elected and took his seat in the House of Representatives at the opening of the twenty-ninth Congress.
The next year he was nominated for Congress, but the Legislature interfered in behalf of Mr. Lewis, and, for the first Since that time he has become well time, adopted the general ticket system-known to the whole country. A great referring the question whether it should question which came before Congress, excontinue to be the mode of electing repre- cited the deepest concern in the public sentatives, to the people, who decided that mind, and which gave rise to a protracted the district system should be restored. Mr. and powerful debate in both houses, afHilliard received in his own district an forded him the opportunity at once of exoverwhelming majority, but was, of course, hibiting his powers. Mr. C. J. Ingersoll, defeated by the northern portion of the chairman of the Committee on Foreign State. Affairs, soon after the opening of the session, reported to the house a resolution, instructing the President to give notice to the Government of Great Britain of our intention to terminate the joint occupancy of the Oregon Territory, the title to which had long been in dispute between the two countries.
In the summer of 1841, he was offered a foreign mission, which he declined; but in the spring of 1842, he was sent out as Minister to Belgium, to succeed the Hon. Virgil Maxey, who was about to return home.
His residence in Brussels brought him in contact with the representatives of other Mr. Hillard made one of the first speechnations, and afforded him the opportunity es upon the question, and took a position of becoming extensively acquainted with that was new and bold; he proposed to the condition of the European States. amend Mr. Ingersoll's resolution, which His own countrymen travelling abroad re-instructed the President to give the conceived from him such attention as have templated notice forthwith, so as to embeen, on more than one occasion, the sub-power the President to give the notice, at ject of public acknowledgements. One of our own citizens, residing in Albany, who, in company with three others from the State of New York, visited Brussels in 1843, described Mr. Hilliard "as really an American Minister and a practical republican." Mr. Hilliard voluntarily gave up his mission, and returned to the United States in the fall of 1844-having repreresented his country in a manner so satisfactory that he acquired the good will of the Belgian Government, while he enjoyed the confidence of his own; and while the Belgian journals of Brussels contained the most favorable notices of him when about to retire from the Belgian Court, he received from home an official assurance that
such time as, in his judgment, the public welfare might require it, thus transferring the responsibility from Congress to the Executive, where it properly belonged. His speech in support of his views was pronounced on all sides to be a most triumphant one. It made a profound impression on the house and the country, and he at once took rank with the first debaters in Congress. Political and personal friends gathered about him with their congratulations, and among the members, the venerable Mr. Adams was observed to approach and grasp him by the hand, saying with deep feeling, "Sir, I can forbear no longer; I am come to congratulate you; I think you have settled the question."
"There are occasions when, to save what is dear to us, it becomes necessary to act promptly-to act with decision, and to act immediately, is often the only way to act with effect. I do not see that we have any course left but to act, whether we regard the perpetuity of peace or the possession of the territory in dispute. If we would avoid war, we must have the causes of war passed upon and settled. It is not always by adjourning over great, and difficult, and delicate questions, that war can be avoided. Our condition in regard to Oregon is such as to demand action-intelligent, prompt, decisive, comprehensive action. If we should leave this question open, in the present state of the two countries, who can avoid seeing that war is inevitable?
"When Lord Ashburton returned to England, after having successfully arranged the difficulties about the northeastern boundary, and was congratulated in the British Parliament on his success, I believe that experienced statesman said that the national sky was then clear and
without a cloud, saving one minute speck upon the horizon, which he did not doubt would soon disappear. But how has his prediction been fulfilled? That little speck, then no bigger than a man's hand, and scarce perceptible on the far-off margin of the heavens, has since become a dark, and lowering, and portentous cloud; it has swept over the face of the sky, and hangs all over our northwestern frontier, gloomy as night. The whole aspect of the question is changed; and, if we wish now to maintain our position as the friends of peace, it is time we awoke to action. We must assert our rights; we must shun a temporizing policy; we must adopt vigorous measures, and carry them to the very farthest verge to which they can be maintained without a violation of the terms of the convention. Otherwise, we shall find that the population of the two nations intermixing in that remote territory, carrying with them the prejudices and heat of the contending parties, protected by and amenable to conflicting jurisdictions, entering into the eager competition of trade-will, at no distant day, precipitate us into a war with Great Britain.
"Nor, sir, is the danger of war all that is involved in the adjournment of this question; we incur the danger of losing the territory altogether. And why do I think so? From the There was a time when Spain possessed great whole colonial history of the British empire. and extensive colonies, but they have dwindled away. There was a time when France could boast of her colonies, but they have dwindled away. There was a time when Holland swept the seas with her fleets, and have dwindled away. In the mean time Great held important colonial possessions, but they Britain has gone on, growing in strength, extending her power, and spreading her armies abroad, into every part of the habitable world. Her language, her laws, her military prowess, fill both hemispheres, while she has belted the globe with her fortresses, to say nothing of her colonies. The British people and their Government well understand the management of colonies. When in Europe, a short time since, a distinguished British diplomatist said to me, "Sir, France does not understand how to manage colonies; we do understand it;" and he spoke the truth. Since the year 1609, Great Britain has acquired no less than fortyone colonies, twenty-four of which she has obtained by settlement, nine by capitulation, and eight by cession. In the possession of Oregon, she seeks to plant herself there permanently, and is employing all her power and all her skill to establish her authority over the greater part of that region."
He admitted that the measures which he advised might lead to war. He should sincerely deplore such a result. He had no sympathy with the warlike spirit which had been manifested by others upon the floor. He said:
"Peaceful triumphs alone are those which I seek the benign victories of reason and truth. These I desire, and none other. If, however, while pursuing such a policy-a policy wise, vigorous, but conciliatory, war should come upon us, I trust the country will be prepared to meet it. If it should come upon us as the result of a moderate but firm assertion of our national rights, the response in every American bosom must be, "Let it come." The venerable gentleman from Massachusetts near me, (Mr. ADAMS,) in tones which rang on my heart like a trumpet, reminded me of the days of our revolutionary glory. The old fire which blazed so brightly in that ever memorable struggle, seemed to be flashing up within him; and, whilst I listened to his patriotic strains, I felt assured that in such a cause we should all act as one man. If we should go into the war in this spirit, I should feel little anxiety as to how we should
come out. The power of England is fast approaching the culminating point. It must soon reach that climax in the history of nations from which they have, one after another, commenced their decline; and she ought not to enter into a contest with a great Power. If wise counsels prevail, she will not. Yet, if she should be so irrational, on the ground of such a controversy as that of Oregon, as to rush into such a contest, I trust that she will be driven back from these shores shorn of her splendor; and she may be very sure that when this happens, it will prove no temporary eclipse, but will endure for all time to come; and she will be left a portent in the political heavens,
'Shedding disastrous twilight over half the nations.'"
He felt the greatest solicitude to secure an important possession on the Pacific coast, because he believed that it would contribute to the wealth, the power, and the glory of the country. At that time we had no other possessions on that distant region than those which we might be able to secure in Oregon, and he fully estimated the advantages which an establishment there would give us in prosecuting our trade with Southern China. We quote from the conclusion of his speech the following passage:
"In either of the views which I have presented, it is impossible that the importance of Oregon can be overlooked. I trust that these great results will be realized, and I hope at no distant day to see a mail line established across the continent. England has very recently been engaged in an experiment in ascertaining the shortest overland route across the continent of
Europe to the East Indies; and I believe the Oriental Steam Company has determined upon that through Germany, by Trieste; but if we construct this railroad, she will then be dependent on us for the shortest and most expeditious, as well as the safest route to China and her East India possessions. Is not the language of Berkley in the progress of fulfillment, when he wrote that immortal line
Westward the star of empire takes its way.' When Oregon shall be in our possession, when we shall have established a profitable trade with China through her ports, when our ships traverse the Pacific as they now cross the Atlantic, and all the countless consequences of such a state of things begin to flow in upon us, then will be fulfilled that vision which rapt and filled the mind of Nunez as he gazed over the placid waves of the Pacific.
"I will now address myself for a moment to
the moral aspect of this great question. Gentlemen have talked much and eloquently about the horrors of war. I should regret the necessity of a war; I should deplore its dreadful scenes; but if the possession of Oregon gives us a territory opening upon the nation prospects such as I describe, and if, for the simple exercise of our rights in regard to it, Great Britain should wage war upon us, an unjust war, the regret which every one must feel will at least have much to counterbalance it. One of England's own writers has said: 'The possible destiny of the United States of America, as a nation of one hundred millions of freemen, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, living under the laws of Alfred, and speaking the language of Shakspeare and Milton, is an august conception.'
"It is an august conception, finely embodied; and I trust in God that it will, at no distant time, become a reality. I trust that the world will see, through all time, our people living, not only under the laws of Alfred, but that they will be heard to speak throughout our wide-spread borders the language of Shakspeare and Milton. Above all is it my prayer that, as long as our posterity shall continue to inhabit these mountains and plains, and hills and valleys, they may be found living under the sacred institutions of Christianity. Put these things together, and what a picture do they present to the mental eye! Civilization and intelligence started in the East; they have travelled and are still travelling westward; of the earth, and reached the extremest verge but when they shall have completed the circuit of the Pacific shores; then, unlike the fabled god of the ancients, who dipped his glowing axle in the western wave, they will take up their permanent abode; then shall we enjoy the sublime destiny of returning these blessings to their ancient seat; then will it be ours to give the priceless benefits of our free institutions, and the pure and healthful light of the Gospel, back to the dark family which has so long lost both truth and freedom; then may Christianity plant herself there, and while, with one hand she points to the Polynesian isles, rejoicing in the late recovered treasure of revealed truth, with the other present the Bible to the Chinese. It is our duty to aid in this great work. I trust we shall esteem it as much our honor as our duty. Let us not, like some of the British missionaries, give them the bible in one hand and opium in the other, but bless them only with the pure word of truth. I hope the day is not distant-soon, soon may its dawn arise to shed upon the farthest and the most benighted of nations the splendor of more than a tropical sun."
Mr. Hilliard was a member of the Committee of Conference, which disposed of the question by reporting a resolution as