Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

had been removed for political cause. Mr. President, two years ago, the little State of Rhode Isiand, one year Since the State of Connecticut, three short months past the empire State of New York, fell into the hands of the political friends of Senators over the way. And what was the immediate result? Sir, in Rhode Island and Connecticut, the Republican incumbents were swept by hundreds from office, sor political reasons alone. Was there any difficulty in finding pure and patriotic Whigs No, sir! The only diffi

to supply their places? * cy was, in making

culty produced by the emergen selections among the crowds of hungry vultures, anxious to fatten upon the public crib. The atrocious injustice, the cruel tyranny, of removals from office, the suffering wives and children, the starving families of the dismissed officers were forgotten as things of by-gone days. Memory was bathed in the waters of Lethe, and no longer remembered what had been said and sung prior to the halcyon days of Federal triumph. In New York, whose able Republican son had been stigmatised as the proclaimer of the “spoils” doctrine, towards whom no epithet of Federal reprobation was too strong for daily utterance, the first days of the Whig saturnalia have been celebrated by the proscription of some of the best public officers ever confided in by the people of that or any other Commonwealth. Sir, her accomplished Secretary of State, the able Comptroller of her financial interests, not less remarkable for his stern integrity and firmness than for his solid talents, the Treasurer, the Attorney General, known here as a man of great ability, and all others that could be stricken down, have been swept from the board; and no virgin timidity, no coy reluctance, no holy horror of removals for political cause, no contempt for the spoils of victory, have presented any obstacle to the elevation of patriotic and office-hating Whigs to the places vacated by these removals. Indeed, sir, the public journals tell us that a multitude of candidates were brought forward, and prepared to fill each and all of these stations. Mr. President, I think that, by this time, the Senator from Kentucky must be willing to admit that the office-seekers are not all on the side of the Administration, and that every opposition to every Administration is filled with them. They are ten times more mumerous than the office-holders; and they are generally more than a match at eloctions for the incumbents of public place. These two classes are antagonist interests, and may be re. lied on to counteract the improper efforts and prac. tices of each other. Between them, the mass of unaspiring people, the public liberty and rights, are in very little danger from either,

[ocr errors]

The remedy for the evils which I have shown not to be very great, and susceptible of counteraction without the aid of penal laws, is very partially provided in the bill of the honorable Senator. “To the end,” says the bill, “that the great powers given to the officers of the Federal Government, and other persons employed in its service, may not be used for the influencing of elections, which ought to be free and incorrupt,” marshals, postmasters, land officers, public engineers, customhouse officers, and others connected with these branches of the public service, are prohibited from persuading or dissuading any elector to give his vote at any election, State or Federal. They are prohibited from intermeddling or attempting to influence any of these elections; and for a violation of this enactment, the offending officer is subjected to a fine of five hundred dollars, and disabled from ever after bearing or executing any office or place of trust whatever under the United States. For the better encouragement of political informers, onehalf of the fine is to be paid as a reward for the discoveries and disclosures of that honorable description of spies upon the words and actions of their fellow-citizens. Shocking, sir, as this bill is to all my Republican notions of the equal rights of all classes of the American people, there is one thing about it which still more palpably indicates its avowed British origin. With regard to the Secretaries of Departments, the Attorney General, the District Attorneys, the publishers of the laws, to say nothing of the members of this House and the other, the very public men who possess the greatest powers, and can exercise the most effective influence over the elections, State and Federal, they are exempted from the operation, prohibitions and penalties of this bill. Our elections may be neither free nor incorrupt from their influence, their persuasions or dissuasions, whether they be sent forth from these halls in partisan speeches, or directed and brought to bear upon the people from the hundred batteries of the official press throughout the States. Precisely similar was the British statute from which this is taken. The Ministers of State, the Lords and Commons, the law officers of the Crown, might exert all their powers of influence at elections. They might, through their friends, spend thousands and tens of thousands to influence and control elections. No fine, no penalty, no disabilitv, could be imposed upon them. They were too high to be reached even by the legislation of an omnipotent British Parliassient. These invidious distinctions between the high and the humble, the exemption of the aristocratic few, and the punish:

ment of the mass, who hold and enjoy office and place, may have well comported with the spirit of the British Government, but would not be tolerated in this country, if it were possible to suppose that this bill could ever become a law of the land. Our marshals, postmasters, and collectors, are equal in intelligence, and, I trust, in spirit too, to those who occupy the highest stations of this Government. And, sir, they will be more wanting in manly feeling, less faithful to themselves, than I think they are, if they do not bear in perpetual remembrance the authors and supporters of this bill. They will, I trust, “nobly act what they nobly think.” But, sir, you have no power to pass the bill. No part of the Federal Constitution confers upon you any authority to interfere, directly or indirectly, with the elective franchise in the States. You have no right to prescribe the qualifications or conditions upon which any man may vote, either for President or Vice President, either for a member of Congress or a member of a State Legislature. It belongs to the States alone to prescribe the qualifications of voters. The Federal Constitution declares that the House of Representatives of the

United States shall be chosen by the electors in

each State qualified as electors of the most numerous branch of the State f.egislature; that the Senate shall be chosen by the Legislatures of the Several States; that the President and Vice President shall be chosen by electors appointed in each State as its Legislature may direct; and that each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications, not of the voters, but of its own members. Congress is carefully excluded from all legislation as to the qualifications of electors of both the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government. Congress can abridge neither the freedom of speech nor of the press, Your officers, in accepting appointments, do not cease to be citizens. They surrender none of their freedom of speech. They can be restrained only by that sense of propriety and decorum which every gentleman ought to feel, especially when both his own respectability and the character of his Government may be affected by his conduct. A law of Congress, prohibiting a public officer from debating political questions with his fellow-citizens, punishing him with fines and eternal disabilities for persuading or dissuading them in regard to their votes at elections, would far transcend the sedition law in the enormity of its transgression of the constitutional rights and liberties

§: of the people The sedition law simply provided

for the punishment of slander and seditious publications. This bill enacts the punishment of innocent and laudable opinions expressed by the citizen, if he happens to be a public officer. Sir, no honorable man would accept appointment if this bill should become a law. No man of character, no freeman possessed of the spirit of “the noblest work of God,” would deign to serve you in a public capacity with the terrors of this shocking bill of pains and penalties hanging over him. Your otfices would fall into ignoble, degraded, and worthless hands. The man who would consent to serve you at the sacrifice of the most precious of his natural and constitutional rights, would merit the scorn and contempt of his fellow-citizens. They would shun and despise him, “And put in every homesthand a whip, To Jash the rascal naked through the world.” Sir, that merit, those qualities and talents, which entitle the citizen to confidence and public station, are by this bill menaced with proscription and disability, if their possessor shall dare to exercise the liberty of speech common to the humblest and most elevated member of society, and secured to all by a special provision in the Federal Constitution. A brand, sir, is fixed upon merit and ability. This bill divests several classes of public officers of all right to use the least freedom of speech in retation to great questions in which their own interests are as deeply involved as those of any of their fellow-citizens. Your postmasters and marshals, your collectors and land officers, are degraded, insulted, and menaced with the loss of cast in Society." Sir, whence do you derive your power to invade the exclusive prerogative of the States, under the pretext of protecting the purity of their elections? Have they demanded your interposition? Have they failed in their duty to themselves? And if they had desired your interference; if they had omitted to protect the purity of the elective franchise, they would have no right to call upon you for the ex

ercise of the extraordinary powers assumed in this bill, except through the medium of an amendment to the Constitution. Are you

wiser, more virtuous, more pure, than your predecessors for fifty years past? Are you more enlightened? Have you a higher sense of virtue and patriotism, than the illustrious framers of the Federal charter, under which you occupy station: in this dignified assembly? Sir, we seem like children wanting some amusement for the occupation of our time and minds; and, in the absence of other employment, we have turned upon the parent States, to whom we owe our existence, the very

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

—damn them, let them leave it!” Sir, I beg pardon; it is not my oath; I never swear. The honorable Senator is equally patriotic. He tells the public officer, whose feelings are outraged,

whose spirit is attempted to be subdued and broken

down by this bill, that if he does not like office upon these tyrannical and proscriptive terms, let him leave it. Yes, sir! Let homest, highminded, spirited men, who scorn your degrading penalties upon thought and speech, give up their offices, and let them be filled by the base, the abandoned, the degraded outcasts of society. Let your bill drive the independent and honorable citizen from public station, and bring in the starveling slave, who would sell his liberty of speech, and his soul, for the crumbs which fall from the public Treasury.

I cannot follow the honorable Senator through all his inappropriate and fanciful illustrations. Not one of them appeared to me to be applicable to the bill before the Senate. Bat, sir, he spoke of the jacobinical doctrines of the report of my able friend from New Jersey. This, Mr. President,

was an unfortunate epithet. H, sir, am not very old ; but I am old enough to remem

ber the language applied by the supporters of the alien and sedition iaws to Mr. Jefferson and the

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

f our political history. They

period o were denounced as leveilers, anarchists, and jacobins. My honorable friend from New Jersey may well feel proud of the same sort of denunciation from congenial sources. The bill before us is of a kindred nature with the sedition law. The report against it will descend to posterity with no jacobinical taint upon it. It is a sound, able, Republican vindication of the equal political rights of the American people, whether they be in the walks of private life, or clothed with the honors of public office. But, says the honorable Senator from Kentucky, the bill does not prohibit the public officer from voting. It does worse, sir. It requires him, if he votes at all, io Creep to the poils like a guilty culprit, deposite his vote in the ballot box, and return home, silent as the grave. He must not commune with his fellow-citizens. He must not asssign to him his reasons for voting. He must truly act the part of a “mute,” and not dare to open his lips to his friend or neighbor, lest he may be suspected of persuading or dissuading him. He must shrink from the manly bearing which nature and nature’s God have stamped upon him, or suffer the pains this pref

and penalties, the fines and disabilities of t #. Kentucky

cious Whig bill, Sir, the Senator from

might as well have perfected the copy of his British model, by a clause forbidding the public officer to VOte. If, Mr. President, this interference of public officers in elections be so pernicious, so odious, in the eyes of gentlemen, how does it happen that Kentucky has passed no law to punish the cers of that State for persuading others with regard to their votes? to State in the Union has done so? The obsolete statute of New Jersey, cited by the honorabie Senator, applies only to the candidates at elections. It does not apply to the officers generally of the State. It is well that it does not. If I comprehend the history of the late election in New Jersey, some of the officers, whose very fate depended on the result, not only intermeddled in the elections, but suppressed the votes of townships in order to change that result from what it would have been, if the law, the duty of these officers, and common fairness and decency had been observed. The honorable Senator from Virginia [Mr. RIVEs] the other day brought up his columns to the support of his friend from Kentucky. He performed various evolutions, moved down upon posi

tions of the Senator from New Jersey

Executive offior dissuading Why is it that

[ocr errors]

with all the

which he could bring to bear upon thera, and

closed his operations by an abandonment of the ground occupied by his ally The resolutions of

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

upon their own The Senator great importance to the fiberties

chosen ground. considers this subject to be one of and destiny of this country. In his imagination, the report of my friend from New Jersey is evidence that the madness of party is conducting us to the precipice of a despotism equal to that of the Stuaris in England, or the purpled tyrants of imperial Rome. He looks upon the report as a creed and doctrine fatal to public liberty; and his fancy aiready bodies forth some American Caesar, clothed in imperial robes, crowned with the glittering diadem of royalty, and trampling down the freedom of the nation. language of this kind, on an occasion affording so little pretext for it, indicates a feverish state of feeling, which has driven the judgment of the ho3orable Senator from its moorings, but which may readily be explained by the peculiar circumstances in which he has been placed by a change of political position.

[ocr errors]

I concur with him in the importance of this proposition. It does, sir, strike at the liberties of a large portion of your most enlightened and most honored citizens. It does demonstrate the madness of party. It does prove, that even in this sacred Hall, consecrated to equal and just legislation, an odious despotism ové, the right to speak and to act can be entertained. It does exhibit a disposition here to imitate the invidious and despotic legislation of the British Parliament. Bnt, sir, I trust that a majority of this body will always be found prepared to resist all such propositions, and that they will permit no demagogue to drag the Senate into Such palpable infractions of the Constitution. The honorable Senator complains that the report not only justifies the officers of Government in the exercise of the common right which belongs to every citizen, but incites them to intermeddle in elections. Sir, the report properly incites them to assert and vindicate their equal rights, attempted to be violated by this bill; and they would be unworthy of the character of American citizens, if they did not maintain those rights with manly firmness. The Senator professes to be uninformed of the extent to which modern Democracy admits of an infusion of Federalism into it. My friend from New Jersey is quite able to defend himself from these insinuations. But I will tell the honorable Senator that his Democracy, his Republicanism, appears to have received a sufficient infusion of Conservatism to spoil its former purity; that, indeed, it has been merged in the modern Federalism with which the Conservatism of associated wealth so naturally amalgamates. Sir, the honorable Senator alleges that the bill before you is of little importance; that the report upon it presents the true issue to the Senate. I do not wonder that gentlemen are anxious to divert public attention from this bill of pains and penalties. It cannot bear the touchstone of public sentiment; but no artifice can be permitted to change the issue from the bill to the report. The bill, sir, is the thing upon which the Senate has to give its vote, and the people to pronounce their judgment. The report will take care of itself. It is but a fair, forcible, and triumphant commentary on the bill, and will prove an extinguisher to it. The Senator declares that the language of the report, inciting the people to a resistance of the provisions of this bill, is rank radicalism. Sir, radicalism has always been charged upon all oppositions to tyranny, to bank monopolies, and to all other aristocratic tendencies; and if hostility, if resistance to this unjust and arbitrary bill be radi

calism, the whole mass of the people will, I trust, entitle themselves to the name of radicals. The honorable Senator has imbibed, from his new position, fresh terrors of Executive patronage, and of the Executive veto. He tells us that no King of England, for one hundred years, has dared to veto an act of Parliament; that if he had done so, a storm of public indignation would have swept him from his throne. It is easy, sir, to understand the present drift of the honorable Senator. That gentleman sustained General Jackson in his administration throughout. He has frequently, since he left his friends, called into requisition the example and authority of that illustrious patriot against the measures proposed on this side of the Senate. He supported the resolution expunging a previous vote of the Senate against General Jackson. No whisper of disapprobation was breathed by him in this Senate in relation to the Executive veto upon the Bank and distribution bills. Sir, the Senator has gained new light from new associations; and, after the alleged mischief has been done by the exercise of the Executive veto; after he has participated in sustaining that veto, the honorable gentleman is now exerting himself to raise that storm of public indignation, which, he hopes, will sweep the Republican party, with whom he once professed it to be his pride to act, from their ascendancy in the councils of the nation. Sir, I regret to say, that our political history has furmished too many examples for the imitation of the Senator. He has too easily yielded to them. But I will tell him for his consolation, that few Republican leaders, who have gone over to the enemy, have survived their desertion with reputation; few have acquired the honors, fewer still the confidence, of the Republican party of the country. Unless he retrace his steps, the Senator will have to

look elsewhere for confidence; he will have to rely

upon other suffrages for the gratification of his ambition. The Senator, if I understood him, committed a great mistake in his speech of Tuesday. He seemed to suppose that the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions were mainly directed against the increase of Executive patronage. Sir, they were mainly intended to check the assumption of legislative power, in derogation of the rights of the States, by the Congress of the United States. The increase of Executive patronage was condemned as the inevitable result of that unconstitutional legislation. The honorable Senator, I fear, is a worse interpreter of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions than my friend from New Jersey, with all the im

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »