Page images

merely prescriptive. Here, under our federal system, there is a nicely measured and studiously apportioned grant from the people and the States. They have allotted specifically the power of making treaties, that is of binding the Union by contracts, to the Executive and Senate; while they have committed certain other powers to all parts of the government jointly, &c. They were satisfied with the Executive and the Senate, as the sole depositories of the power in question. The concurrence of such an assembly as the House of Representatives, would probably be, in a general point of view, of more detriment than benefit. Unity of deliberation and promptitude of execution were, as the experience of mankind suggested, to be consulted as far as possible, in the authorization to make treaties. There was a signal warning on this head in the example of the Dutch Republic, by the constitution of which all the provinces were to give their separate consent to every treaty. The embarrassments and disadvantages which this formality occasioned, led to what might be expected-frequent infractions of the rule. In the case of the celebrated triple league negotiated by Temple and De Wit, the States General broke through it, rather than incur a delay and uncertainty which often suspended as it were, the safety of the Republic, and always influenced foreign cabinets to the prejudice of her relations with them.

The Act relative to payment for property lost or captured during the war, called the “ Claims law," passed at the first session, was, at the second, the subject of an animated and curious controversy, both as to its general principle, and the partial execution which it had received. The government may derive credit for generosity from this measure, but it would seem to have gone beyond what either duty or policy prescribed. I think the precedent will be lamented or its authority disputed, hereafter, as to all cases, other than those reached by the principles to which Mr. P. Barbour and Mr. Calhoun confined themselves in their luminous speeches on the subject. The argument of Mr. P. Barbour was a fine specimen of parliamentary logic, and appeared to me irresistible. It has not, I believe, been reported at large;---a circumstance much to be regretted.

The act passed, opens a wide door to fraud, and may induce endless expense and trouble. The treasury should possess Fortunatus' purse, to meet all the demands which might be referred to one or other of the several cases specified. A sufficient prelibation of the consequences was had in the merely inchoate execution, about which the House of Representatives was so long and angrily engaged.

There was something objectionable not only in the latitude of the general principle, but in the arrangements for the execution of the law.

The execution of such a law was too heavy and delicate a charge for a single commissioner. He could not, however upright or capa. ble he might be, perform the task without incurring suspicion and odium. X case of greater hardship than that of the respectable individual who had the misfortune to be selected for this trust, can scarcely be conceived, when we look to the manner in which his proceedings were investigated and arraigned in Congress. It was a virtual inquisition into character, which admitted of no such opportunity for vindication, as justice, or the feelings of the accused could rest satisfied with, on the supposition of his innocence. It was an awkward entanglement for all parties; for Congress, the President, and the unfortunate commissioner. I cannot think that Congress extricated itself as could be wished. *

Several of the speeches delivered on the subject of the Repeal of the Direct Tax, besides those of Mr. Clay, and Mr. Hopkinson, which I have given entire in my first volume, could be cited as ingenious and instructive performances. I would indicate particularly those of Mr. Calhoun, who shines on every occasion which calls for an appeal to general principles, and enlarged views of policy. His language in the debates on the additional Military Academies, on the General Appropriation Bill, on the encouragement of Domestic Manufactures, was that of a statesman “looking before and after.” The reduction of the Direct Tax from six to three millions, and the limitation of it to one year, effected in the first session, were the harbingers of its extinction at the next. They might have been considered, too, as ominous of the proposition made in February last, to abolish all the internal taxes, which failed, say its advocates, only because it was introduced so late in the session. God forbid that this should have been the true reason of its failure! We may hope that the sound sense of the majority of Congress enlightened and admonished by the eloquent wisdom of some of the leaders, will not allow the Treasury to be cut off from all supplies, except those which it may be at any time in the

power of foreign nations to curtail or intercept.

The reduction of the army would be the natural concomitant of the repeal of the taxes, and was meditated, simultaneously, in the House of Representatives. It was formally and seriously proposed in the Senate, by the hon. Mr. Mason, of New-Hampshire, who trembled for our liberties in viewing the number to which the army now amounts—ten thousand men and would therefore, have reduced it tu a moiety! But few senatorial voices were raised in favour of any reduction.f It was combated on

• So with the Treaty-question, although the respective reports of the Committees of Conference are in themselves able and valuable papers.

* In the course of the first session of this Congress, there originated in the Senate, another most alarming proposition which hapbroad and solid grounds, particularly by Mr. Barbour, of Virginia, and Mr. Brown, of Louisiana. I must be permitted to extract a single paragraph from the able speech of Mr. Brown:

“ That large standing armies, in times of tranquillity, have heen considered by our ancestors, and are justly considered by us, as dangerous to liberty, I readily admit: and of such armies I never shall become the advocate. But can this salutary dread of large standing armies ever attach to the very small army to which the proposed reduction is intended to apply? It would seem impossible that any individual can for a moment, really feel any such alarm. Large armies, composed of mercenary troops, when stationed amongst a people ignorant of their rights, forbidden the use of arms, or, what is nearly as bad, ignorant of the use of them, are formidable irresistible; but the army of our country is generally composed of its native citizens, and commanded by officers whose courage and fidelity have been proved in the field, and rewarded by the gratitude of the nation. This army is divided and stationed in garrison along the Atlantic coast from Maine to St. Mary's, and on the west from the Lakes to New Orleans. Our citizens are well informed, and jealous of their liberties: every where armed, and acquainted with the use of arms. Can such an army conceive designs against the liberty of their country? Can such an army, so dispersed and distributed amongst so many distant stations, afford any just cause of alarm, or even jealousy, to a population of more than one million of free men, such as I have described?”

One cannot see without dismay the inclination manifested in Congress, and industriously propagated without, to dismantle the country-now, when, by its increasing greatness, and the peculiar condition of the world, it is more than ever exposed to disturbance in its foreign relations. To secure to the state at least all existing resources, is the dictate of common prudence. Economy is indeed, a salutary rule, when applied with judgment and circumspection. It no longer merits the name, especially in national affairs, when it is confounded with the mere saving or alleviation of the moment, apart from every consideration of future advantage or detriment, of national liberality or dignity. There are strong symptoms that it will assume this character, in the efforts of no inconsidera

pily underwent the same fate. I allude to the amendment to the Constitution moved by Mr. Sandford, having for its object to make the Judges removable from office on the vote of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, with the consent of the President. This scheme of innovation—which reminds us by its boldness of that of Mr. Hillhouse of Connecticut, offered to the Senate several years ago-was resisted in the proper strain by Mr. King and Mr. Fromentin.

ble portion of the next Congress, and that administration will have to wrestle with it, as the evil genius of their own and the public weal.

The expenses of our establishments, particularly of the army, have, perhaps, been disproportionate to their extent. The remedy for the evil is the rigorous enforcement of a well digested system of scrutiny and control; and the 14th Congress made some progress towards this important reform. In the month of March, 1816, resolutions were offered by Mr. Tucker of Virginia, and carried, for the appointment at the commencement of each session, of additional standing committees to consist of three members, for the investigation of the several branches of the public expenditure, who are to report on abuses, suitable retrenchainents, kic. The act of the last session, entitled “ An act to provide for the prompt settlement of public accounts,” presents regulations that cannot fail to be of considerable efficacy. This law followed a joint Report of the secretaries of the several departments of government, respecting the annual settlement of the public accounts; an interesting paper, which should not escape the attention of any American politician. It is to be found in the National Intelligencer, of December 20, 1816, and shows too clearly that a reformation was wanted. Much confusion, loss, and waste, were the necessary consequences of the state of things which it disclose. Some of the legal precautions which it recommended were too summary, and properly rejected by Congress. The miscarriage of one of its suggestions—the creation of a home department—is much to be regretted.

The debate on the National Bank-Bill could be little more than a repetition of what had been uttered before in congress, and rendered familiar to the public by newspaper essays. I admire the ability and perseverance with which this measure was supported; the adroitness with which it was attacked, and the sagacity displayed in relation to the objectionable features of the plan first proposed: But I must confess that Congress has always appeared to me to be less well-informed or successfully speculative as to the theory of money—making every allowance for the intrinsic difficulty of the subject -than on almost any other topic of national concern. The two Houses afforded full opportunity for judging of their competency to the question, since scarcely any member can be reproached with having withheld the fruits of his meditations or enquiries. This insufficiency of Congress—I speak with all due deference to it, and diffidence in my own opinion--if not merely imaginary, may, perhaps, be ascribed to a neglect of the experience and speculations in the same matter, of other nations, and particularly of England. The study of what has been there done and written, must have weakened the influence of popular notions hastily adopted, and the confidence, so natural, in the


lessons of a narrow circle of observation. In this, and, indeed, in all other branches of political economy, a partial or merely local experience, and native acuteness of mind, however great, constitute but an unsafe dependence for the aims of legislation. Sciences of detail are not to be mastered by the force of that degree of intuition which has been spared to mankind.

Under all circumstances, the national bank was a benefaction, and an act of prowess for which the whole government deserves applause. The 14th Congress has the great merit of improving and assuring the natural operation of the return of peace, as to the circulating medium. The establishment of the national bank, determined, in itself, unerringly, the resumption of specie payments; but this event was hastened by the resolution of the committee on the national currency, expressed at the 2d session, of leaving the secretary of the treasury to execute the provident law of the 1st session, which required all dues to the United States, to be paid from and after the 20th February 1817, in the legal currency of the country, or in the notes of such banks as discharged their notes in specie on demand.

The new tariff of duties on imports is another salutary work of the 14th Congress, in the accomplishment of which the most exemplary patience and vigilance were displayed. It was an arduous and delicate task, as, indeed, the adjustment of any particular branch of taxation must be with us; much more so in several respects, than for the governments of Europe. The adverse interests and private views which they have to reconcile, are fewer, less energetic, and more submissive. We have a wide and variable field of legislation, with comparatively meager experience as to the results of the application of general principles; a reason why we ought carefully to study their operation in Europe, whenever a parity of situation is to be traced. The important question of the extent and mode in which domestic manufactures should be encouraged, was implicated in the regulation of the tariff, and instructively discussed. I could particularize the remarks of Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Gold, Mr. Clay, General Smith, and Mr. Randolph, as especially deserving of attention.

One of the observations of Mr. De Marbois, in his “Preliminary Discourse," as to our situation, is, that commerce is here at strife with agriculture. He would, probably, on a near view of the present state of things, place manufactures in the lists. He is not exactly right in the first, nor would he be in the second instance; but we should beware, lest, while we are talking of the harmony, indivisibility, &c. of these three branches of industry, a real hostility should be lurking between them. The spirit of encroachment and moropoly natural to the commercial and manufacturing interests is always to be dreaded. They enjoy a decided advantage over the agricultural in the fa

« PreviousContinue »