« PreviousContinue »
ON THE ELECTION OF THE PRESIDENT AND VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
Delivered in the House of Representatives, February 16, 1826.
CORRUPT Congress, and you assail liberty in the very seat of its vitality.
But, sir, we are apt to treat the idea of our own corruptibility as utterly visionary, and to ask, with a grave affectation of dignity, "What, do you think a Member of Congress can be corrupted?" Sir, I speak what I have long and deliberately considered when I say that, since man was created, there never has been a political body on the face of the earth that would not be corrupted under the same circumstances. Corruption steals upon us in a thousand insidious forms when we are least aware of its approaches. Of all the forms in which it can present itself, the bribery of office is the most dangerous, because it assumes the guise of patriotism to accomplish its fatal sorcery. We are often asked, "Where is the evidence of corruption? Have you seen it, sir?" Sir, do you expect to see it? You had as well expect to see the embodied form of pestilence and famine stalking before you as to see the latent operations of this insidious power. We may walk amidst it and breathe its contagion without being conscious of its presence. All experience teaches us the irresistible power of temptation, when vice assumes the form of virtue. The great enemy of mankind could not have consummated his infernal scheme for the seduction of our first parents but for the disguise in which he presented himself. Had he appeared as the devil, in his proper form-had the spear of Ithuriel disclosed the naked deformity of the Fiend of Hell-the inhabitants of Paradise would have shrunk with horror from his presence. But he came as the insinuating serpent, and presented a beautiful apple, the most delicious fruit in all the garden. He told his glozing story to the unsuspecting victim of his guile. “It can be no crime to taste of this delightful fruit. It will disclose to you the knowledge of good and evil. It will raise you to an equality with the angels." Such, sir, was the process; and in this simple but impressive narrative we have the most beautiful and philosophical illustration of the frailty of
man, and the power of temptation, that could possibly be exhibited. Mr. Chairman, I have been forcibly struck with the similarity of our present situation and that of Eve, after it was announced that Satan was on the borders of Paradise. We, too, have been warned that the enemy is on our borders. But God forbid that the similitude should be carried any further. Eve, conscious of her innocence, sought temptation, and defied it. The catastrophe is too fatally known to us all. She went "with the blessings of Heaven on her head, and its purity on her heart," guarded by the ministry of angels; she returned overwhelmed with guilt, and covered with shame, under the awful denunciation of Heaven's everlasting curse. Sir, it is innocence that temptation conquers. If our first par
ent, pure as she came from the hand of God, was overcome by his seductive power, let us not imitate her fatal rashness, by seeking temptation when it is in our power to avoid it. Let us not vainly confide in our own incorruptible purity. We are liable to be corrupted. To an ambitious man, an honorable office will appear as beautiful and fascinating as the apple of Paradise.
I admit, sir, that ambition is a passion, at once the most powerful and the most useful. Without it human affairs would become a mere stagnant pool. It is the active principle that stimulates even the patriot to exertion, and in its very excesses, it is the frailty of the most exalted minds. By means of this patronage the President addresses himself in the most irresistible manner to this, the noblest and strongest of our passions. All that the imagination can desire-honor, power, wealth, ease, are held out as the temptation. Man was not made to resist such allurements. It is impossible to conceive, Satan himself could not devise, a system which could more infallibly introduce corruption and death into our political Eden. Sir, the angel fell from Heaven with less temptation.
DEFENCE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
From a Speech on the Tariff in the House of Representatives, April 29, 1830.
MR. CHAIRMAN, a great and solemn crisis is evidently approaching, and I admonish the gentlemen that it is the part of wisdom, as well as of justice, to pause in this course of legislative tyranny and oppression, before they have driven a highminded, loyal and patriotic people to something bordering on despair and desperation. Sir, if the ancestors of those who are now enduring-too patiently enduring-the oppressive burdens unjustly imposed upon them, could return from their graves, and witness the change which the Federal Government, in one quarter of a century, has produced in the entire aspect of the country, they would hardly recognize it as the scene of their former activity and usefulness. Where all was cheerful, and prosperous, and flourishing, and happy, they would behold nothing but decay, and gloom, and desolation, without a spot of verdure to break the dismal continuity, or even
A rose of the wilderness left on its stalk,
Looking upon this sad reverse in the condition of their descendants, they would naturally inquire what moral or political pestilence had passed over the land, to blast and wither the fair inheritance they had left them. And, sir, when they should be told that a despotic power of taxation, infinitely more unjust and oppressive than that from which the country had been redeemed by their toils and sacrifices, was now assumed and exercised over us by our own brethren, they would indignantly exclaim, like the ghost of the murdered Hamlet, when urging his afflicted son to avenge the tarnished honor of his house,
"If you have nature in you, bear it not."
Sir, I feel that I am called upon to vindicate the motives and the character of the people of South Carolina from imputations which have been unjustly cast upon them. There is no state in this Union distinguished by a more lofty and disinterested patriotism than that which I have the honor, in part, to represent. I can proudly and confidently appeal to history
for proof of this assertion. No state has made greater sacrifices to vindicate the common right of the Union, and preserve its integrity. No state is more willing to make those sacrifices now, whether of blood or treasure.
But, sir, it does not belong to this lofty spirit of patriotism. to submit to unjust and unconstitutional oppression, nor is South Carolina to be taunted with the charge of treason and rebellion, because she has the intelligence to understand her rights and the spirit to maintain them. God has not planted in the breast of man a higher and a holier principle than that by which he is prompted to resist oppression. Absolute submission and passive obedience to every extreme of tyranny are the characteristics of slaves only.
The oppression of the people of South Carolina has been carried to an extremity which the most slavish population on earth would not endure without a struggle. Is it to be expected, then, that free men will patiently bow down, and kiss the rod of the oppressor? Free men, did I say? Why, sir, anyone who has the form and bears the name of a man-nay, "a beast that wants discourse of reason," a dog, a sheep, a reptile-the vilest reptile that crawls upon the earth, without the gift of reason to comprehend the injustice of its injuries, would bite, or bruise, or sting the hand by which they were inflicted.
Is it, then, for a sovereign state to fold her arms and stand still in submissive apathy, when the loud clamors of the people, whom Providence has committed to her charge, are ascending to heaven for justice? Hug not this delusion to your breast, I pray you.
It is not for me to say, in this place, what course South Carolina may deem it her duty to pursue in this great emergency. It is enough to say that she perfectly understands the ground which she occupies; and be assured, sir, that whatever attitude she may assume, in her highest sovereign capacity, she will firmly and fearlessly maintain it, be the consequences what they may. The responsibility will not rest upon her, but upon her oppressors.
I will say in conclusion, Mr. Chairman, that in all I have uttered there has not been mingled one feeling of personal unkindness to any human being, either in this House or out of
it. I have used strong language, to be sure, but it has been uttered "more in sorrow than in anger." I have felt it to be a solemn duty, which I owed to my constituents and to this nation, to make one more solemn appeal to the justice of their oppressors.
Let me, then, sir, beseech them in the name of our common ancestors, whose blood was mingled together as a common offering, at the shrine of our common liberty-let me beseech them, by all the endearing recollections of our common history, and by every consideration that gives value to liberty and the union of these states, to retrace their steps as speedily as possible, and to relieve a high-minded and patriotic people from an unconstitutional and oppressive burden, which they cannot longer bear.
SPEECH AT A PUBLIC DINNER
Given to him by the citizens of Charleston, South Carolina, May 19, 1831.
I BELIEVE this to be one of those great emergencies in human affairs which imposes an imperative obligation upon the sovereign power of the State to take care that the Republic receives no detriment. I will not moot the question of Nullification as a mere question of constitutional power, for I am aware of the effort of our oppressors to make an issue upon that, in order to divert public attention from the true issue. I will readily concede that a state cannot nullify an act of Congress, by virtue of any power derived from the Constitution. It would be a perfect solecism to suppose any such power was conferred by the Constitution. This right flows from a higher source. All that I claim for the State, in this respect, necessarily results from the mere fact of sovereignty. Thank God! No one has yet been found bold enough to maintain that South Carolina is shorn of that high and sacred prerogative, and reduced, politically, to the condition of a corporation or a colony; yet many reason upon the subject precisely as if this were the
People of South Carolina are subject to the laws of Congress, provided they be authorized by the Constitution; but with no propriety of language can it be said that the State,