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THOMAS CORWIN (1794-1865)
THE OHIO CAMPAIGN SPEAKER
HERE are men who need a great occasion to rouse them to a T great action. Of such was Thomas Corwin, a man who, when stirred to his depths by some strong impelling cause, was capable of a fine outburst of oratory, yet who usually lacked the sustaining force to keep him long at a high level of speech and thought. He lived at a time when the gifted public speaker rose rapidly into prominence and exercised the greatest influence among his constituency. His greatest effort by far was his speech on the Mexican War, which one writer characterizes as “one of the most memorable speeches ever delivered in America,” and as the basis of his reputation as an orator. Corwin, born in Kentucky in 1794, was admitted to the bar in Ohio about 1818, and soon gained celebrity as a lawyer and orator. He was elected to Congress in 1830, became Governor of Ohio in 1840, and was a United States Senator from 1845 to 1850. In 1840 he actively supported General Harrison for the Presidency by numerous speeches at mass-meetings, to which his popular style of oratory was especially adapted. In 1850 he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Fillmore. His later public service was as member of Congress from 1858 to 1861, and Minister to Mexico from 1861 to 1864. He returned home to die in December, 1865.
THE DISMEMBERMENT OF MEXICO
[The Mexican War was essentially a Southern measure, and was strongly opposed by many of the people of the North. One of its chief purposes was the acquirement of new territory for the extension of slavery, a purpose which was not disguised in the South. The new territory was acquired, but slavery failed to obtain a footing in it. Among those who opposed the war Corwin was one of the most ardent and earnest, and his celebrated speech of February 11, 1847, was much the
ablest effort made by the opposition. From this we select his views concerning the proposed acquisition of Mexican territory.]
110 THOMAS CORWIN
What is the territory, Mr. President, which you propose to wrest from Mexico 2. It is consecrated to the heart of the Mexican by many a wellfought battle with his old Castilian master. His Bunker Hills and Saratogas and Yorktowns are there ! The Mexican can say, “There I bled for liberty 1 and shall I surrender that consecrated home of my affections to the Anglo-Saxon invaders ? What do they want with it? They have Texas already. They have possessed themselves of the territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. What else do they want 2 To what shall I point my children as memorials of that independence which I bequeath to them, when those battlefields shall have passed from my possession ?” Sir, had one come and demanded Bunker Hill of the people of Massachusetts, had England's lion ever showed himself there, is there a man over thirteen and under ninety who would not have been ready to meet him? Is there a river on this continent that would not have run red with blood 2 Is there a field but would have been piled high with unburied bones of slaughtered Americans before these consecrated battlefields of liberty should have been wrested from us? But this same American goes into a sister Republic, and says to poor, weak Mexico, “Give up your territory, you are unworthy to possess it ; I have got one-half already, and all I ask of you is to give up the other ’’ England might as well, in the circumstances I have described, have come and demanded of us, “Give up the Atlantic slope—give up this trifling territory from the Allegheny Mountains to the sea; it is only from Maine to St. Mary's—only about one-third of your Republic, and the least interesting portion of it.” What would be the response? They would say we must give this up to John Bull. Why? “He wants room,” The Senator from Michigan says he must have this. Why, my worthy Christian brother; on what principle of justice? “I want room l’’ Sir, look at this pretense of want of room. With twenty millions of people, you have about one thousand millions of acres of land, inviting settlement by every conceivable argument, bringing them down to a quarter of a dollar an acre, and allowing every man to squat where he pleases. But the Senator from Michigan says we will be two hundred millions in a few years, and we want room. If I were a Mexican I would tell you, “Have you not room enough in your own country to bury your dead 2 If you come into mine we will greet you with bloody hands, and welcome you to hospitable graves.” Why, says the Chairman of this Committee on Foreign Relations, it is the most reasonable thing in the world ! We ought to have the Bay of San Francisco | Why? Because it is the best harbor in the Pacific It
* TY THOMAS CORWIN - 111
has been my fortune, Mr. President, to have practiced a good deal in criminal courts in the course of my life, but I never yet heard a thief, arraigned for stealing a horse, plead that it was the best horse he could find in the country ! We want California. What for 2 Why, says the Senator from Michigan, we will have it; and the Senator from South Carolina, with a very mistaken view, I think, of policy, says you can't keep our people from going there. I don’t desire to prevent them. Let them go and seek their happiness in whatever country or clime it pleases them. All I ask of them is, not to require this government to protect them with that banner consecrated to war waged for principles—eternal, enduring truth. Sir, it is not meet that our old flag should throw its protecting folds over expeditions for lucre or for land. But you still say you want room for your people. This has been the plea of every robber chief from Nimrod to the present hour. I dare say, when Tamerlane descended from his throne, built of seventy thousand human skulls, and marched his ferocious battalions to further slaughter, I dare say he said, “I want room.” Bajazet was another gentleman of kindred tastes and wants with us Anglo-Saxons—he “wanted room.” Alexander, too, the mighty “Macedonian madman,” when he wandered with his Greeks to the plains of India, and fought a bloody battle on the very ground where recently England and the Sikhs engaged in strife for “room,” was, no doubt, in quest of some California there. Many a Monterey had he to storm to get “room.” Sir, he made as much of that sort of history as you ever will. Mr. President, do you remember the last chapter in that history 2 It is soon read. Ah, I wish we could but understand its moral. Ammon's Son (so was Alexander named) after all his victories, died drunk in Babylon ] The vast empire he conquered to “get room,” became the prey of the generals he had trained ; it was dismembered, torn to pieces, and so ended. Sir, there is a very significant appendix ; it is this : The descendants of the Greeks, Alexander's Greeks, are now governed by a descendant of Attila Mr. President, while we are fighting for room, let us ponder deeply this appendix. I was somewhat amazed the other day to hear the Senator from Michigan declare that Europe had quite forgotten us, till these battles waked them up. I suppose the Senator feels grateful to the President for “waking up " Europe. Does the President, who is, I hope, read in civic as well as military lore, remember the saying of one who had pondered upon history long ; long, too, upon man, his nature, and true destiny. Montesquieu did not think highly of this way of “waking up.” “Happy,” says he, “is that nation whose annals are
JOHN J. CRITTENDEN (1787-1863)
ENRY CLAY did not live without an apostle and did not die H without an eulogist. Without many such, we might say, but we are concerned here with one in particular, like him a Kentucky Senator, through life his warm friend and ardent supporter, and after death his most eloquent extoller. Among the oratorical efforts of John Jordan Crittenden, his eulogy of Henry Clay is usually looked upon as the finest example of his powers, though it was by no means the only time he rose to a high level of dignified eloquence.
Crittenden, a native of Kentucky, early gained distinction as a legal advocate of unusual powers, and became so prominent in the political field that he was elected to the United States Senate at thirty years of age. He was appointed Attorney-General of the United States by President Harrison in 1841, and by President Fillmore in 1850, and was elected Governor of Kentucky in 1848. In 1861 he attempted to mediate between North and South, offering a series of resolutions known as the Crittenden Compromise.
THE STRONG AGAINST THE WEAK
[On the 15th of February, 1859, Mr. Crittenden made in the Senate one of his ablest and most eloquent speeches, its subject being the proposed acquisition of Cuba by the United States. It was not the first movement in that direction. President Polk had made an offer to Spain in 1848 to purchase Cuba for the sum of $1,000,ooo. Ten years later President Buchanan made a similar proposition to the Senate, the sum now named being $30,000,000. It led to an animated discussion, which ended in its withdrawal. One of the most earnest opponents of the scheme, and of the message of the President, in connection therewith, was Senator Crittenden. We subjoin an extract from his speech, in which he strongly assails the arbitrary methods of our government dealings with the weaker States of America.]
At the close of the great wars of Europe, when Spain solicited assist
ance to resubjugate her South American colonies, when their menacing
reached the ears of the rulers of this country, what was done: It was John J. CRITTENDEN 113
the mightiest question that had been presented to the world in this century, whether South America should be europeanized and fall under the European system of government and policy, or whether it should be americanized according to the American system of republics. What a mighty question was it ! By kindness, by encouragement, by offers of unlimited kindness and protection, we won their hearts, and they fell into our system. They gave us all their sympathy; but now, where has it gone? Read the last message of the President, and consider the troubled state of our relations with these states which it depicts. There is not a state where we do not find enemies, where our citizens are free from violence, where their property is not taken from them. It seems that the persons and property of our citizens are exposed continually to daily violence in every State of South America with which we have relations. It is so, too, in Mexico and Guatemala and Costa Rica and the various States of Central America.
How has it been that this state of things has been brought about? How has it been that we have lost that mighty acquisition,--an acquisition, not of territory, but an acquisition of the hearts of men ; an acquisition of the hearts of nations, ready to follow our lead, to stand by us in a common cause, to fight the world, if it were necessary 2 That great golden chain that bound freemen together from one end of the North to the end of the South American continent has been broken in a thousand pieces; and the message tells us the sad tale that we are everywhere treated with enmity and hostility, and that it is necessary for us to avenge it.
We are gathering up little accounts with these nations; we are making quarrels with them. They have done us some wrong; practiced some enmity against our citizens; taken some property that they ought not to have taken ; and, besides, we have claims against them. From the Fiji Islands to the Spanish throne we have demands to be urged ; and I think we are coming to a very summary process of collection, where no Congress is to sit to examine into the casus belli, but a ship of war, better than all the constables in the world, is to go around collecting, from the cannibals and others, whatever she is commissioned to say is due to us.
What peace can we have, what good-will can we have among men, if we are to depart from the noble course which governed our forefathers, who had no quarrels but those which they could make a fight out of, and ought to have made a fight out of, directly and at once, and be done with them 2 Do all these little clouds or specks of war that darken our horizon promise additional prosperity, or an increase of revenue to meet our debts? No, sir. If they portray anything, they portray the contrary—increased expenditures. .