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vindicate to the Legislative Department, and especially to the Senate, all that belonged to them ; to arrest the tendencies which he thought at one time threatened to substitute the government of a single will, of a single person of great force of character and boundless popularity, and of a numerical majority of the people—told by the head, without intermediate institutions of any kind, judicial or senatorial-in place of the elaborate system of checks and balances, by which the Constitution aimed at a government of laws, and not of men ; how much, attracting less popular attention, but scarcely less important, to complete the great work which experience had shown to be left unfinished by the Judiciary Act of 1789, by providing for the punishment of all crimes against the United States; how much for securing a safe currency and a true financial system, not only by the promulgation of sound opinions, but by good specific measures adopted, or bad ones defeated ; how much to develop the vast material resources of the country, and push forward the planting of the West--not troubled by any fear of exhausting old States—by a liberal policy of public lands, by vindicating the constitutional power of Congress to make or aid in making large classes of internal improvements, and by acting on that doctrine uniformly from 1813, whenever a road was to be built, or a rapid suppressed, or a canal to be opened, or a breakwater or a lighthouse set up above or below the flow of the tide, if so far beyond the ability of a single State, or of so wide utility to commerce or labor as to rise to the rank of a work general in its influences—another tie of union because another proof of the beneficence of union; how much to protect the vast mechanical and manufacturing interests of the country, a value of many hundreds of millions--after having been lured into existence against his counsels, against his science of political economy, by a policy of artificial encouragement-from being sacrificed, and the pursuits and plans of large regions and communities broken up, and the acquired skill of the country squandered by a sudden and capricious withdrawal of the promise of the government; how much for the right performance of the most delicate and difficult of all tasks, the ordering of the foreign affairs of a nation, free, sensitive, self-conscious, recognizing, it is true, public law and a morality of the State, binding on the conscience of the State, yet aspiring to power, eminence and command, its whole frame filled full and all on fire with American feeling, sympathetic with liberty everywhere ; how much for the right ordering of the foreign affairs of such a Stateaiming in all its policy, from his speech on the Greek question in 1823 to his letters to M. Hulsemann in 1850, to occupy the high, plain, yet dizzy ground which separates influence from intervention, to avow and promulgate warm, good will to humanity, wherever striving to be free,
to inquire authentically into the history of its struggles, to take official and avowed pains to ascertain the moment when its success may recognized, consistently, ever, with the great code that keeps the peace of the world, abstaining from everything which shall give any nation a right under the law of nations to utter one word of complaint, still less to retaliate by war—the sympathy, but also the neutrality, of Washington ; how much to compose with honor a concurrence of difficulties with the first Power in the world, which anything less than the highest degree of discretion, firmness, ability, and means of commanding respect and confidence at home and abroad would inevitably have conducted to the last calamity -a disputed boundary line of many hundred miles, from St. Croix to the Rocky Mountains, which divided an exasperated and impracticable border population, enlisted the pride and affected the interests and controlled the politics of particular States, as well as pressed on the peace and honor of the nation, which the most popular administrations of the era of the quietest and best public feelings, the times of Monroe and of Jackson, could not adjust; which had grown so complicated with other topics of excitement that one false step, right or left, would have been a step down a precipice--this line settled for ever-the claim of England to search our ships for the suppression of the slave-trade silenced for ever, and a new engagement entered into by treaty, binding the national faith to contribute a specific naval force for putting an end to the great crime of man-the long practice of England to enter an American ship and impress from its crew terminated for ever; the deck henceforth guarded sacredly and completely by the flag ; how much, by profound discernment, by eloquent speech, by devoted life to strengthen the ties of Union, and breathe the fine and strong spirit of nationality through all our numbers; how much most of all, last of all, after the war with Mexico-needless if his counsels had governed—had ended in so vast an acquisition of territory, in presenting to the two great antagonistic sections of our country so vast an area to enter on, so imperial a prize to contend for, and the accursed fraternal strife had begun-how much then, when, rising to the measure of a true, and difficult, and rare greatness, remembering that he had a country to save as well as a local constituency to gratify, laying all the wealth, all the hopes, of an illustrious life on the altar of a hazardous patriotism, he sought and won the more exceeding glory which now attends—which in the next age shall more conspicuously attend-his name who composes an agitated and saves a sinking land ; recall this series of conduct and influence, study them carefully in their facts and results—the reading of years—and you attain to a true appreciation of this aspect of his greatness, his public character and
THOMAS HART BENTON (1782-1858)
T was in the days of unlimited paper money, issued almost
at random by every wildcat bank throughout the land, that
Thomas H. Benton won his sobriquet of “Old Bullion,” by his urgent advocacy of a currency of the precious metals, issued by the government alone. But perhaps Benton's most prominent claim to distinction was in the part he bore in one of the greatest parliamentary debates of modern times, that between Hayne and Webster in 1832. Benton, an advocate of the right of State opposition to laws deemed unconstitutional, though not of nullification, began his debate by an attack upon Massachusetts, an assault which precipitated the mighty contest which has been already dealt with in our sketches of Webster and Hayne. Those were the days of giants in oratory, and perhaps we should add to the names of Clay, Webster and Calhoun that of Benton, as the fourth in a great quartet. Unlike the former three, he was a strong supporter of Jackson, whom he earnestly sustained in his suppression of the United States Bank and in other radical issues.
In earlier years Benton was as decided an enemy of Jackson as he afterward became a friend. He quarrelled with him in 1812, when in command of a regiment under him. In 1813 Jackson attempted to horsewhip him at Nashville, and was severely wounded by a pistol shot fired by Benton's brother. But all this was forgiven in later years, and the former enemies became close friends.
Born in North Carolina, Benton began to practice law at Nashville in 1811, and founded a political newspaper at St. Louis in 1815. In 1820 he was elected to the Senate from Missouri, and remained a member of this body for thirty years. He was defeated in 1851, and afterward served for some years in the House of Representatives.
THOMAS HART BENTON
Benton rendered a service of the greatest value to Congress and the country by his voluminous work, entitled “A Thirty Years' View, or a History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, from 1820 to 1850.” This most excellent history of Congress was supplemented for the succeeding twenty years in a similar work by James G. Blaine, the two photographing for us a half century of Congress.
SPANNING THE CONTINENT [In place of offering our readers a selection from Benton's Congressional speeches, we prefer to give a brief address on a different topic, an eloquent prevision of a great work that was to be realized twenty years afterward. In 1849, when this address was delivered, the railroad in this country had not reached its twentieth year of age, and the country west of the Mississippi was a vast unknown land, the home of the Indian and the buffalo. Our almost utter ignorance of it is indicated in the maps of that period, in which a mighty territory, now the home of innumerable farms, is designated as “The Great American Desert." Yet Benton's prophetic vision already saw the railroad stretching over these unsettled thousands of miles and the iron horse careening from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In this speech he suggested the building of such a road. It then seemed like the dream of a wild enthusiast, yet we all know how amaply his broad conception has since then been realized.]
We live in extraordinary times, and are called upon to elevate ourselves to the grandeur of the occasion. Three and a half centuries ago the great Columbus,—the man who afterward was carried home in chains from the New World which he discovered,—this great Columbus, in the year 1492, departed from Europe to arrive in the east by going to the west. It was a sublime conception. He was in the line of success when the intervention of two continents, not dreamed of before, stopped his progress. Now, in the nineteenth century, mechanical genius enables his great design to be fulfilled.
In the beginning and in the barbarous ages the sea was a barrier to the intercourse of nations. It separated nations. Mediæval genius invented the ship, which converted the barrier into a facility. Then land and continents became an obstruction. The two Americas intervening prevented Europe and Asia from communicating on a straight line. For three centuries and a half this obstacle has frustrated the grand design of Columbus. Now, in our day, mechanical genius has again triumphed over the obstacles of Nature and converted into a facility what had so long been an impossible obstruction. The steam car has worked upon the land among enlightened nations to a degree far transcending the miracle which the ship in barbarous ages worked upon the ocean. The land has now become a facility for the most distant communication, a conveyance being invented which annihilates both time and space. We hold the
THOMAS HART BENTON
intervening land; we hold the obstacle which stopped Columbus ; we are in the line between Europe and Asia ; we have it in our power to remove that obstacle; to convert it into a facility to carry him on to this land of promise and of hope with a rapidity and a safety unknown to all ocean navigation.
A king and a queen started him upon his great enterprise. It is in the hands of a republic to complete it. It is in our hands, in the hands of us, the people of the United States of the first half of the nineteenth century. Let us raise ourselves up. Let us rise to the grandeur of the occasion. Let us repeat the grand design of Columbus by putting Europe and Asia into communication, and that to our advantage, through the heart of our country. Let us give to his ships a continued course unknown to all former times. Let us make an iron road, and make it from sea to sea; States and individuals making it east of the Mississippi and the nation making it west. Let us now, in this convention, rise above everything sectional. Let us beseech the national legislature to build a great road upon the great national line which unites Europe and Asia ; the line which will find on our continent the Bay of San Francisco for one end, St. Louis in the middle, and the great national metropolis and emporium at the other; and which shall be adorned with its crowning honor, the colossal statue of the great Columbus, whose design it accomplishes, hewn from the granite mass of a peak of the Rocky Mountains, the mountain itself the pedestal and the statue a part of the mountain, pointing with outstretched hand to the western horizon, and saying to the flying passengers, “There is East; there is India.”