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I ask this house, Is there no control to its authority ? Is there no limit to the power of this national legislature? I hope I shall offend no man when I intimate that two limits exist, NATURE AND THE CONSTITUTION. Should this house undertake to declare that this atmosphere should no longer surround us, that water should cease to flow, that gravity should not hereafter operate, that the needle should not vibrate to the pole, I do suppose, Mr. Chairman, — sir, I mean no disrespect to the authority of this house ; I know the high notions some gentlemen entertain on this subject, — I do suppose, sir, I hope I shall not offend, — I think I may venture to affirm that, such a law to the contrary notwithstanding, the air would continue to circulate, the Mississippi, the Hudson, and the Potomac would hurl their floods to the ocean, heavy bodies continue to descend, and the mysterious magnet hold on its course to its celestial cynosure.
Just as utterly absurd and contrary to nature is it to attempt to prohibit the people of New England, for any considerable length of time, from the ocean. Commerce is not only associated with all the feelings, the habits, the interests, and relations of that people, but the nature of our soil and of our coasts, the state of our population and its mode of distribution over our territory, render it indispensable. We have five hundred miles of sea-coast, all furnished with harbors, bays, creeks, rivers, inlets, basins; with every variety of invitation to the sea; with every species of facility to violate such laws as these. Our people are not scattered over an immense surface, at a solemn distance from each other, in lordly retirement, in the midst of extended plantations and intervening wastes. They are collected on the margin of the ocean, by the sides of rivers, at the heads of bays, looking into the water or on the surface of it for the incitement and the reward of their industry. Among a people thus. situated, thus educated, thus numerous, laws prohibiting them from the exercise of their natural rights, will have a binding effect not one moment longer than the public sentiment supports them.
But it has been asked, in debate, “ Will not Massachusetts, the cradle of liberty, submit to such privations ?” An embargo liberty was never cradled in Massachusetts. Our Liberty was not so much a mountain as a sea nymph. She was free as air. She could swim or she could run. The ocean was her cradle. Our fathers met her as she came, like the goddess of beauty, from the waves. They caught her as she was sporting on the beach. They courted her whilst she was spreading her nets upon the rocks. But an embargo Liberty, a handcuffed Liberty, a Liberty in fetters, a Liberty traversing between the four sides of a prison and beating her head against the walls, is none of our offspring. We abjure the monster. Its parentage is all inland.
Let me ask, Is embargo independence ? Deceive not yourselves. It is palpable submission. Gentlemen exclaim, Great Britain “smites us on one cheek.” And what does Administration ? “ It turns the other also.” Gentlemen say, Great Britain is a robber; she “ takes our cloak." And what says Administration ? “ Let her take our coat also." France and Great Britain require you to relinquish a part of your commerce, and you yield it entirely. Sir, this conduct
may be the way to dignity and honor in another world, but it will never secure safety and independence in this.
William Wirt was born at Bladensburg, in Maryland, November 8, 1772. He was the son of a Swiss father and a German mother, both of whom died while he was quite young He received his education in the private school of a Presbyterian clergyman, and, though it is fair to presume that his progress in classical learning was only moderate, we know that he early acquired a taste for reading, and devoured all the contents of the master's library. So rapidly had he gone over his preparatory course, that he was admitted to the bar in Virginia and commenced practice in his twentieth year. At that time, he tells us, his library consisted of Blackstone's Commentaries, two volumes of Don Quixote, and Tristram Shandy. His first step in public life was in being chosen clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates. Soon after he was made chancellor of the eastern district of the state. During his residence in Richmond he wrote The British Spy, a series of papers of very unequal merit. Two of them, one upon Pocahontas, and the other an account of the Blind Preacher, are in his best style, animated, picturesque, and touching. The scientific disquisitions that burden most of the others are of little value. Later appeared another series, entitled The Old Bachelor. They were labored essays, resembling those of Johnson, Addison, and Steele only in form; and, in spite of the favorable judgment of Wirt's biographer, Kennedy, they must be considered as dull. They have fallen into total neglect. Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry attained a great popularity. It is not based on those foundations generally thought essential to biography, since Wirt never saw Henry, and could only write according to tradition. Nothing authentic remained of the eloquence that had dazzled the generation preceding. But the book was written in a spirit of hearty sympathy, and though the style at times is open to critical objections, all things are forgiven to the author, who carries his readers on, with unwearied attention, to the close.
Wirt was appointed attorney general of the United States in 1817, and held the office twelve years.
His forensic speeches were learned, ornate, and fervid. Perhaps the most favorable specimen of his oratory is the speech upon the trial of Aaron Burr, in which occurs the episode of Blennerhasset's Island, a passage dear to generations of school-boys, and lingering like a memory of beauty in maturer years. His discourse upon the lives of Adams and Jefferson, delivered in 1826, was also a fine production. Upon his retirement from office in 1828, he went to reside in Baltimore, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died in Washington, February 18, 1834, while attending the Supreme Court. He was a strikingly handsome man, with graceful manners and a musical voice. He was twice married and was happy in his domestic relations. Both in public and in private life his character and conduct were irreproachable. His life was written by the late John P. Kennedy, of Baltimore.
[From the British Spy. ]
POCAHONTAS. Good Heaven ! what an eventful life was hers! To speak of nothing else, the arrival of the English in her father's dominion must have appeared (as indeed it turned out to be) a most portentous phenomenon. It is not easy for us to conceive the amazement and consternation which must have filled her mind and that of her nation at the first appearance of our countrymen. Their great ship, with all her sails spread, advancing in solemn majesty to the shore ; their domestic animals ; their cargo of new and glittering wealth ; and then the thunder and irresistible force of their artillery ; the distant country announced by them, far beyond the great water, of which the oldest Indian had never heard, or thought, or dreamed, all this was so new, so wonderful, so tremendous, that I do seriously suppose the personal descent of an army of Milton's celestial angels, robed in light, sporting in the bright beams of the sun and redoubling their splendor, making divine harmony with their golden harps, or playing with the bolt and chasing the rapid lightning of heaven, would excite not more astonishment in Great Britain than did the debarkation of the English among the aborigines of Virginia.
Poor Indians! Where are they now ? Indeed, my dear S., this is a truly afflicting consideration. The people here may say what they please, but, on the principles of eternal truth and justice, they have no right to this country. They say that they have bought it — bought it! Yes, — of whom ? Of the poor trembling natives who knew that refusal would be vain, and who strove to make a merit of necessrty by seeming to yield with grace what they knew they had not the power to retain. Such a bargain might appease the conscience of a gentleman of the green bag, “ worn and hackneyed” in the arts and frauds of his profession ; but in Heaven's chancery, my S., there can be little doubt that it has been long since set aside on the ground of duress.
Poor wretches ! No wonder that they are so implacably vindictive against the white people ; no wonder that the rage of resentment is handed down from generation to generation ; no wonder they refuse to associate and mix permanently with their unjust and cruel invaders and exterminators; no wonder that in the unabating spite and frenzy of conscious impotence, they wage an eternal war, as well as they are able ; that they triumph in the rare opportunity of revenge ; that they dance, sing, and rejoice as the victim shrieks and faints amid the flames, when they imagine all the crimes of their oppressors collected on his head, and fancy the spirits of their injured forefathers hovering over the scene, smiling ferocious delight at the grateful spectacle, and feasting on the precious odor as it arises from the burning blood of the white man.
Yet the people here affect to wonder that the Indians are so very unsusceptible of civilization, or, in other words, that they so obstinately refuse to adopt the manners of the white men. Go, Virginians, erase from the Indian nation the tradition of their wrongs ; make them forget, if you can, that once this charming country was theirs ; that over these fields and through these forests their beloved forefathers once, in careless gayety, pursued their sports and hunted their game ; that every returning day found them the sole, the peaceful, the happy proprietors of this extensive and beautiful domain. Make them forget, too, if you can, that in the midst of all this innocence, simplicity, and bliss, the white man came; and lo! the animated chase, the feast, the dance, the song of fearless, thoughtless joy were over ; that, ever since, they have been made to drink of the bitter cup of humiliation ; treated like dogs ; their lives, their liberties, the sport of the white men ; their country and the graves of their fathers torn from them in cruel succession til, driven from river to river, from forest to forest, and, through a period of two hundred years, rolled back nation upon nation, they find themselves fugitives, vagrants, and strangers in their own country, and look forward to the certain period when their descendants will be totally extinguished by wars, driven, at the point of the bayonet, into the western ocean, or reduced to a fate still more deplorable and horrid, the condition of slaves. Go, administer the cup of oblivion to recollections and anticipations like these, and then you will cease to complain that the Indian refuses to be civilized. But until then, surely it is nothing wonderful that a nation, even yet bleeding afresh from the memory of ancient wrongs, perpetually agonized by new outrages, and goaded into desperation and madness at the prospect of the certain ruin which awaits their descendants, should hate the authors of their miseries, of their desolation, their destruction, should hate their manners, hate their color, their language, their name, and everything that belongs to them. No; never
until time shall wear out the history of their sorrows and their sufferings, will the Indian be brought to love the white man and to imitate his manners.
Great God! To reflect, my S., that the authors of all these wrongs were our own countrymen, our forefathers, professors of the meek and benevolent religion of Jesus. O, it was impious, it was unmanly, poor, and pitiful! Gracious Heaven! What had these poor people done ? The simple inhabitants of these peaceful plains, what wrong what injury, had they offered to the English ? My soul melts with pity and shame.
As for the present inhabitants, it must be granted that they are comparatively innocent; unless, indeed, they also have encroached under the guise of treaties, which they themselves have previously contrived to render expedient or necessary to the Indians.
Whether this has been the case or not l.am too much a stra ger to the interior transactions of this country to decide. But it seems to me that were I a president of the United States, I would glory in going to the Indians, throwing myself on my knees before them, and saying to them, “Indians, friends, brothers, O, forgive my countrymen! Deeply have our forefathers wronged you ; and they have forced us to continue the wrong. Reflect, brothers, it was not our fault that we were born in your country ; but now we have no other home; we have nowhere else to rest our feet. Will you not, then, permit us to remain ? Can you not forgive even us, innocent as we are ? If you can, O, come to our bosoms, be indeed our brothers, and, since there is room enough for us all, give us a home in your land, and let us be children of the same affectionate family." I believe that a magnanimity of sentiment like this, followed up by a correspondent greatness of conduct on the part of the people of the United States, would go farther to bury the tomahawk and produce a fraternization with the Indians than all the presents, treaties, and missionaries that can be employed, dashed and defeated as these latter means always are by a claim of rights on the part of the white people, which the Indians know to be false and baseless. Let me not be told that the Indians are too dark and fierce to be affected by generous and noble sentiments. I will not believe it. Magnanimity can never be lost on a nation which has produced an Alknomok, a Logan, and a Pocahontas.