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Jiberty to a race utterly incapable of it, did our constitution even permit us to do so; but a question involving the sober, stable, rational, enduring, hereditary liberty of the Anglo-American, which has hitherto been identified with our whole being, but of which the knell is struck whenever the schemes of these petitioners shall have been consummated. Dissolve this Union, and your republican institutions are gone forever. In the scenes of blood and anarchy which will infallibly succeed, no human prescience can anticipate precisely what results will ensue; but one thing, at least, I hold to be perfectly certain, and that is that popular government will cease to exist in States engaged in perpetual hostility with one another. And can gentlemen bring themselves lightly to tamper, in spite of the most solemn constitutional obligations, with interests like these? Do they imagine that the people who sent them here are prepared to peril the peace, the union, the liberty, the hopes, of this continent, in an idle pursuit of a mere visionary, unattainable good; that they are ready to overthrow the constitution, and to dismember the confederacy, in violation of their most sacred duties under the one, and their unspeakable interest in the other? Sir, I tell you they are not. I have a consoling and triumphant confidence in their calm reason and sage and serious morality. I am not using the base language of adulation. I disdain it. I know that, like the rest of mankind, our people are fallible and often doing wrong. I have no doubt, too, that we are responsible for much of the error into which they are occasionally betrayed ; that we do not hold to them the sincere and courageous language of truth, and dare to present to them every important issue in its true character. But of their ultimate decision on every thing that relates to the preservation of the Union, I will not permit myself to doubt. I am sure that, if they were now here, within the sound of my voice, it would not be addressed in vain to their bosoms. tion be fairly presented to them, before it is too late; let them be brought to pass upon the true issue involved in these schemes, before they are driven to madness by a most unhallowed agitation-and all is safe.
I have now, in a very hurried manner, gone through the whole subject, so far as it was my purpose to deal with it. I have established, I trust satisfactorily, that the amendment of the constitution has not at all changed the lex parliamenti (as part of the common law) touching this matter.' That, by the law of Parliament and the constitution of the United States, this House has an undoubted right to adjudge and determine what petitions are not proper to be received by it. And, lastly, that the petitions now in question are in fact such as are not proper to be received; and I have, accordingly, without hesitation, voted against receiv
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SOUTHERN NAVAL DEPOT.
Speech, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States,
January 11, 1839.
The House, having under consideration the bill providing for a dry dock, at the navy yard, at Brooklyn, New-York, which bill Mr. Paynter proposed to amend by making provision for a similar improvement at Philadelphia, and the question immediately pending being on a further amendment, moved by Mr. Thompson, to strike out Philadelphia and insert Pensacola
Mr. Legaré said that, when he entered the House a few minutes ago, nothing was further from his thoughts than that he should be then addressing the Chair in reply to what he had understood to be a violent attack of the gentleman from Maine upon the peaceful city which he (Mr. L.) had the honor still to represent.
[Here Mr. Evans rose and disavowed an intention of saying any thing that might be offensive to Mr. L's constituents, further than a fair argument against their claims to have a navy yard, &c., might be considered as offensive.]
Mr. Legaré. I did not hear the gentleman myself. I received my impressions from what others understood the gentleman as saying. I am informed, for instance, that he repeated the words, "begging, begging, begging," as if to imply that no importunities had been spared by the citizens of Charleston to obtain what they knew they had no right to ask on broad grounds of justice and policy.
[Mr. Evans explained again.]
Mr. L. Be it so, sir; I am not quite sure that I should very materially have altered the spirit of my reply, had the gentleman really been betrayed into the use of language so unjust and unbecoming. It is not my habit to sacrifice the dignity and the decencies of this House to wrangling personalities; nor, standing here as the advocate of so good a cause, would I cast a suspicion upon it by resorting to the language of passion. As to the imputations thrown out by the gentleman against Southern members, for the sectional spirit (as it is called) with which they discuss matters of the kind, I fearlessly appeal to the House whether the uniform tenor of my conduct and language here does not entirely exempt me from such a charge. I have never resorted to topics of that sort without reluctance, and in the
exercise of those rights of self-defence which sanction so many other deviations from strict formal rules. I do not ask for my constituents any thing but what I think them fairly entitled toany thing which they would not consent that I should grant to others. But it is surely no objection to a measure, that, besides being recommended to your adoption by general reasons of national policy, it will be attended with peculiar local advantages; and, if my predecessor, in the zealous and able arguments which he from time to time put forth on this subject, did urge it as a weighty consideration that the establishment of a navy yard at Charleston would feed and employ a strong body of white mechanics and laborers, in a part of the country where that description of people are more wanted, and need, perhaps, more encouragement than in any other, he uttered sentiments which I here adopt for my own, and of which I will undertake to maintain the propriety upon the most incontrovertible grounds.
To begin, however, with the subject before the Committee. I was, from the first, inclined to vote for the appropriation recommended by the Committee on Naval Affairs; and, although my opinion has been occasionally shaken in the course of the debate, I am still determined to do so. It appears to me obviously proper that there shonld be a dry dock at New-York-the great seat of our commerce—the centre of our navigation--the port, in short, which, in times of actual service, is, for many reasons, more likely to be the point of rendezvous and resort than any at the North. This opinion I find confirmed by that sort of evidence which, I agree with the gentleman from Maine, must generally govern, or, at least, very much influence our determination here—the demands of the Navy Department and the reports of the appropriate committee of this House. There may be some weight (I do not think as much as one would be led to ascribe to it from the present embarrassment of the finances) in the argument founded on the necessity of retrenchment. But, looking at the immense resources, actual and eventual, of the country, I will not consent to neglect or to weaken any of its military defences, simply because, from transient causes, our Treasury happens to be rather low. Unless our affairs be miserably mismanaged, a few years will restore to us a redundant revenue, and we should, by refusing this money, only sacrifice the strength and protection of the country, which ought never for a moment to be neglected, to an ill-timed and most timid and unreasonable parsimony.
So much for the appropriation called for; but the amendment of my colleague, (Mr. Thompson,) to whom I consider the country as under a great obligation for having drawn public attention to a matter of such vast and fundamental importance, as well as his able speech and that of another of my colleagues, (Mr. Elmore,) have given a range to this discussion which it had not at first ; and both with a view to aid them in their most laudable efforts, and to expose the fallacies of the gentleman from Maine, (Mr. Evans,) I will trespass upon the committee a little longer while I speak of the defenceless state of the Southern coast, and the urgency of its claims upou this body for a better system of measures to protect it. I deeply regret, however, to have to speak on such a subject so entirely without the preparation to which its magnitude entitles it; but it has long occupied my thoughts, and I will venture to throw out some general ideas in regard to it, in the hope that such suggestions will not be lost upon those who have an interest in the inquiry, and may find sufficient leisure to pursue it more in detail, and, it is to be hoped, to great practical results.
It is impossible, Mr. Chairman, to cast your eyes, however carelessly, over a map of the United States—and such is the important influence of geography, natural and physical, upon the destinies of empire, that no man can pretend to the character of a statesman, in such a country as this, who does not closely study its map-without at once perceiving that Pensacola is destined, by nature, to be the key of the most gigantic commerce that was ever, in the history of the world, concentrated upon a single spot. I speak not of the West as it is, wonderful as it is. I speak of what a very few years—for what is a century in the life of a nation ?-will most certainly bring about. Every thing on this side the mountains will be dwarfed in the comparison. The valley of the Mississippi, in its whole extent, is capable of supporting as great a population as that of all Europe put together; and its external commerce, borne upon the waters of a single river to New Orleans, must follow the course of the Gulf stream to more northern latitudes. There is something overpowering in the idea of such a state of things, and it is scarcely less startling to reflect upon the facility with which a foreign enemy may throw obstacles to any extent in the way of such a trade. He has only to blockade the mouth of the river with such a fleet as the possession of a port in the West Indies will enable him to keep at sea, and evils, far beyond all calculation, may be inflicted on the whole country watered by its various streams. Sir, I have only to mention a name, which no American can hear pronounced in connection with certain possibilities without some excitement-Cuba. Do you doubt that, in the event of another war with England, for instance, she would take possession of that island, and hold it if she could ? She already has the keys of almost every important sea. Will she neglect that of the most important of all ? Sir, it is with a view to contingencies so probable, to exigencies so pressing as these, that I regard Pensacola, according to the best information I possess upon the subject, as entitled to your most earnest attention. Looking to the facilities, in such a country, of artificial communications by canals and railways, and to the great advantages it possesses in the character of its bar and harbor, that city will, not improbably, be the Havre of New Orleans. You should render it, as far as possible, impregnable—you should arm it with every means and instrument of war, offensive and defensive. It should be your Gibraltar. And now, sir, I ask whether, in the face of such a prospect as this, it is reasoning like statesmen to argue, with the gentleman from Maine, that ihe wages of labor will be a little higher there ; that the munitions of war and ship stores will not be so cheap as in New England ? Does not the gentleman perceive that if this argument is good for any thing, it proves too much for his purposes ; that it would show that we ought to break up the great establishment at Norfolk, to which it applies just as forcibly as to any other port in the South; indeed, that it would make it necessary to crowd all your dry docks and navy yards into that part of the country where contracts could be entered into upon the most reasonable terms?
[In the course of these remarks Mr. Legaré was interrupted more than once by Mr. Evans, the latter gentleman stating, at some length, that what he had said on this subject was not intended to convey his own opinions so much as to refute those of Mr. Thompson and others, who contended for the superior advantages of Pensacola, in respect of its forests of live oak, &c. Mr. Thompson also explained.]
Mr. L. replied that, although he held himself responsible only for his own opinions, yet he must say that forests of live oak, &c., were, at least, no disadvantage.
But, sir, (he continued,) to look at the subject in a point of view in which it most deserves the consideration of statesmen, we are to regard the seaport in question as a place d'armes-a great port of military equipment. In Europe, where the state of war is the basis of all political systems and calculations, such a point could escape the observation of no minister entrusted with the affairs of a great nation. An ingenious writer has remarked that the three men whose memories are dearest to France - I do not mean in the vulgar sense of the word “popularity”—but who have the strongest hold upon the French mind, as identified with the history and the destinies of their country-Richelieu, Louis XIV. and Bonaparte—will be remembered after all transitory grounds of reputation and influence shall be passed away, as founders of the three great military ports of Brest
, Dunkirk, and Antwerp. The last of these I have often visited with interest. Its great importance to the empire of Napoleon was well expressed in his saying that it was a pistol loaded and presented at the very heart of England. The whole argument on this subject is