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BBLIVERED IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY 1839;
S P E E C H.
In Senate, February 16, 1839—On the bill of Mr. CRITTENDEN to prevent the interference of certain Federal officers in elections. Mr. NORVELL rose and said: Before I proceed, Mr. President, to present my views of the bill now under consideration, I desire to perform an act of justice to my Whig friends on the other side of the Senate, and to a distinguished statesman of the Republican party, once a member of this body. It was the misfortune of that eminent statesman, in vindicating the removals and appointments made by President Jackson, to utter the sentiment, that “to the victor belong the spoils.” For that doctrine he has received the unqualified denunciations of the Opposition; and his party friends have shared an equal degree of condemnation for confirming, by their policy, the principle which he avowed. My purpose now is to show that Governor Marcy is not entitled to the credit of first proclaiming this as the rule of political warfare; that its origin is to be traced to a Whig source, and its example and practice to the Federal party of Massachusetts. In the second volume of the Life of Elbridge Gerry, written by James T. Austin, now the able Whig Attorney General of that State, and the biographer of Mr. Gerry, I find these passages: Mr. Gerry entered upon the office of Governor of Massachusetts twenty-nine years ago. At that time, says his biographer, “with the directors of political parties the long retirement of Mr. Gerry had given him no opportunity to become intimate. The changes which time had made in the members
of the different departments of the Government;
had left him almost without personal acquaintance with them; and the desire which his party had to place his name as a candidate at their head, had itself, if there had been no other reason, rendered his advance to the Chief Magistracy wholly independent of all conditions, stipulations and expectancies. In his own political sentiments, matured as they were by time and experience, he was im
movably confirmed; but in regard to individuals or parties, other than as they came recommended by character and conduct, he was impartial, unfettered, and independent. But, after all, what is the worth of a victory, if the enemy are allowed to possess THE SPOILs? Of what consequence is it who are masters of the field, so
long as the vanquished retain their possessions? The battle between the great political parties had been fought at the ballot boxes again and again, and constant defeat had embittered and exasperated the disappointed competitors. They beheld, for a long series of years, the honors and emoluments of office, the pride of place and dignity of station, held by their political adversa
ries, until the reproach of being a Democrat was considered as impassable a barrier to public station as the want of moral character or intellectual ability.” “The judicial department, the most stable and the most efficient in its operation, was, from the chief justice to the crier of the court, wholly in Federal hands. As a consequence of this, the bar, with hardly sufficient exception to be noticed, added all the force of professional character to the Federal cause. The literature of the State, so far as it had official form, was under the same control. Colleges and learned societies seemed to have settled a sort of common law, that the honors of Science would be as inappropriately bestowed upon Democracy, as the chef d’auvres of taste upon the aborigines of the country.” “It had been the policy of the Federalists to inspire the opinion, and it was probably their belief, for selflove is exceedingly credulous of praise, that in their ranks were all the talents, and all the learning, and all the moral character of the country; and as the Romans looked upon the rest of mankind as barbarians, so they were pleased to consider their fellowcitizens, on the Democratic side, as little better than the Goths and Vandals, into whose power had un
|fortunately fallen the heritage of the State.”
The Senator from Massachusetts [Mr. WEBSTER) inquires from what book I have read these passages; and asks whether I do not know that Governor Gerry belonged to my party, and was turned out in one year? If the Senator had not been in attentive, he would have heard it distinctly announced, that the book which I have just laid down was the biography of Elbridge Gerry, written by James T. Austin, the present attorney general of Massachusetts. It is the production of a modern Whig, sir, now in the enjoyment of “the spoils” of Federal victory. He it is, and not Governor Marcy, who first proclaimed “the spoils” doctrine, and demanded what was the value of a triumph, if the vanquished were suffered “to retain their possessions?” He was describing the practice of the Federal party when in power, their proscription from office of every Democratic Republican, and their strict adherence to the principle, that “to the victor belong the spoils.” Sir, I do kaow that Governor Gerry was of my party. He was not dismissed in one year. He was re-elected. He acted in a spirit of liberality and conciliation towards his opponents during his first term. He deviated from that course in his second.
In the history of parties in England, we have memorable examples of the secession of leaders from their early friends, and the formation of alliances with ancient political adversaries. A cordial union for the common object, the destruction of the existing administration, has always naturally followed. On such occasions, the necessity of breaking down all party names, in order to form a strong body in opposition, has generally been well understood, and urged with mutual ardor and vigor. Ulterior views, and the division of spoils between the new allies, have been postponed until the common enemy has been vanquished. Party spirit, the agitation of variant principles, as between the different members of the coalition, have been deprecated; and measures which might bring them into common concert have been devised, and supported with zeal, until the compact has been consolidated, and capable of moving on with perfect union and harmony.
A conjuncture of this sort is now before our eyes. We see secessions here, and in some of
the States, from the great Republican party of the
country. We see a coalition formed and forming in the midst of us, to subvert the present Republican Administration. We see parly names extinguished, the agitation of discordant principles hushed into profound silence, the ulterior views of
rival chieftains suppressed from public observation,
and the division of the spoils deferred until the power of parcelling them out shall have been completely attained And, sir, I am much mistaken, if the bill before us be not a measure devised to enable the dawning Whig and Conservative coalition to meet on common ground, and to prosecute the war against us without the danger of agitation and discord among the allied leaders of Opposition. This Government, Mr. President, has been in operation fifty years. limited powers.
It has rarely transcended its When it has gone beyond its constitutional boundaries, it has been brought back to its Republican tack. It has not interfered with the right of suffrage, which belongs exclusively to the States. The elective franchise, the liberty of speech and of the press, have been left to their regulation. The General Government, except during the short reign of terror in the days of Federal phrensy, acting in the spirit of its chartered grant of power, has abstained from invading any of the reserved rights of the States. The abuses committed at elections by public officers, during the administration of the elder Adanas, goaded Mr. Jefferson into the utterance of impressive animadversions upon their conduct. He admonished those of his appointment against the imitation of the example which had been set them. He warned them of the consequences which would result from the pursuit of Such a course of interference in the State elections. The distinguished leaders of the Republican opposition to the administration of the younger Adams directed public attention to the corrupting influence of Executive patronage, through the medium of officers of Executive appointment, upon the elections of the country. President Jackson considered it his duty to denounce the practice of bringing theinfluence of Executive patronage to bear upon the freedom and purity of the elective franchise. But, sir, did Mr. Jefferson ever contemplate the passage of a law to prohibit public officers from freely expressing their opinions upon all political questions, which they might think proper to discuss? Did he propose any thing, as a remedy for the evil, more than the exertion of a moral influence, the menace of Executive displeasure, to restrain the public officers from improper interference in elections? Did the report of the Senator from Missouri, the speech of the Senator from Pennsylvania, the
inaugural address of President Jackson, the report
of the Senator from South Carolina, propose to check that interference by fines and perpetual disabilities? Sir, in the most exasperated state of feeling against the outrages perpetrated by a few pub. lic officers at popular elections, it never entered the