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´╗┐Title: Henry Clay's Remarks in House and Senate
Author: Clay, Henry, 1777-1852
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  Henry Clay, "On the Seminole War,"
  U.S. House of Representatives
  19 January 1819.

  Henry Clay, "On the Expunging Resolutions,"
  U.S. Senate
  16 January 1837

Part 1

  Henry Clay, "On the Expunging Resolutions,"
  U.S. Senate,
  16 January 1837

Mr. President:

WHAT patriotic purpose is to be accomplished by this Expunging
resolution?  What new honor or fresh laurels will it win for our common
country?  Is the power of the Senate so vast that it ought to be
circumscribed, and that of the President so restricted that it ought to
be extended?  What power has the Senate?  None, separately.  It can
only act jointly with the other House, or jointly with the Executive.
And although the theory of the Constitution supposes, when consulted by
him, it may freely give an affirmative or negative response, according
to the practice, as it now exists, it has lost the faculty of
pronouncing the negative monosyllable.  When the Senate expresses its
deliberate judgment, in the form of resolution, that resolution has no
compulsory force, but appeals only to the dispassionate intelligence,
the calm reason, and the sober judgment, of the community.  The Senate
has no army, no navy, no patronage, no lucrative offices, no glittering
honors, to bestow.  Around us there is no swarm of greedy expectants,
rendering us homage, anticipating our wishes, and ready to execute our

How is it with the President?  Is he powerless?  He is felt from one
extremity to the other of this vast Republic.  By means of principles
which he has introduced, and innovations which he has made in our
institutions, alas! but too much countenanced by Congress and a
confiding people, he exercises, uncontrolled, the power of the State.
In one hand he holds the purse, and in the other brandishes the sword
of the country.  Myriads of dependants and partisans, scattered over
the land, are ever ready to sing hosannas to him, and to laud to the
skies whatever he does.  He has swept over the government, during the
last eight years, like a tropical tornado.  Every department exhibits
traces of the ravages of the storm.  Take as one example the Bank of
the United States.  No institution could have been more popular with
the people, with Congress, and with State Legislatures.  None ever
better fulfilled the great purposes of its establishment.  But it
unfortunately incurred the displeasure of the President; he spoke, and
the bank lies prostrate.  And those who were loudest in its praise are
now loudest in its condemnation. What object of his ambition is
unsatisfied?  When disabled from age any longer to hold the sceptre of
power, he designates his successor, and transmits it to his favorite!
What more does he want?  Must we blot, deface, and mutilate the records
of the country, to punish the presumptuousness of expressing an opinion
contrary to his own?  What patriotic purpose is to be accomplished by
this Expunging resolution?  Can you make that not to be which has been?
Can you eradicate from memory and from history the fact that in March,
1834, a majority of the Senate of the United States passed the
resolution which excites your enmity?  Is it your vain and wicked
object to arrogate to yourselves that power of annihilating the past
which has been denied to Omnipotence itself?  Do you intend to thrust
your hands into our hearts, and to pluck out the deeply rooted
convictions which are there?  Or is it your design merely to stigmatize
us?  You cannot stigmatize us.

     "Ne'er yet did base dishonor blur our name."

Standing securely upon our conscious rectitude, and bearing aloft the
shield of the Constitution of our country, your puny efforts are
impotent; and we defy all your power.  Put the majority of 1834 in one
scale, and that by which this Expunging resolution is to be carried in
the other, and let truth and justice, in heaven above and on earth
below, and liberty and patriotism, decide the preponderance.

What patriotic purpose is to be accomplished by the Expunging
resolution?  Is it to appease the wrath and to heal the wounded pride
of the Chief Magistrate?  If he be really the hero that his friends
represent him, he must despise all mean condescension,  all grovelling
sycophancy, all self-degradation and self-abasement.  He would reject,
with scorn and contempt, as unworthy of his fame, your black scratches
and your baby lines in the fair records of his country.  Black lines!
Black lines!  Sir, I hope the Secretary of the Senate will preserve the
pen with which he may inscribe them, and present it to that Senator of
the majority whom he may select, as a proud trophy, to be transmitted
to his descendants.  And hereafter, when we shall lose the forms of our
free institutions, all that now remain to us, some future American
monarch, in gratitude to those by whose means he has been enabled, upon
the ruins of civil liberty, to erect a throne, and to commemorate
especially this Expunging resolution, may institute a new order of
knighthood, and confer on it the appropriate name of "the Knights of
the Black Lines."

But why should I detain the Senate, or needlessly waste my breath in
fruitless exertions?  The decree has gone forth.  It is one of urgency,
too.  The deed is to be done--that foul deed which, like the blood,
staining the hands of the guilty Macbeth, all ocean's  waters will
never wash out.  Proceed, then, to the noble work which lies before
you, and, like other  skilful executioners, do it quickly.  And when
you have perpetrated it, go home to the people, and tell them what
glorious honors you have achieved for our common country.  Tell them
that you have extinguished one of the brightest and purest lights that
ever burned at the altar of civil liberty.  Tell them that you have
silenced one of the noblest batteries that ever thundered in defence of
the Constitution, and bravely spiked the cannon.  Tell them that,
henceforward, no matter what daring or outrageous act any president may
perform, you have forever hermetically sealed the mouth of the Senate.
Tell them that he may fearlessly assume what powers he pleases, snatch
from its lawful custody the public purse, command a military detachment
to enter the halls of the Capitol, overawe Congress, trample down the
Constitution, and raze every bulwark of freedom; but that the Senate
must stand mute, in silent submission, and not dare to raise its
opposing voice.  Tell them that it must wait until a House of
Representatives, humbled and subdued like itself, and a majority of it
composed of the partisans of the President, shall prefer articles of
impeachment.  Tell them, finally, that you have restored the glorious
doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance.  And, if the people
do not pour out their indignation and imprecations, I have yet to learn
the character of American freemen.

      *      *      *      *      *

Part 2

  Henry Clay, "On the Seminole War,"
  U.S. House of Representatives,
  19 January 1819.

IF MY recollection does not deceive me, Bonaparte had passed the Rhine
and the Alps, had conquered Italy, the Netherlands, Holland, Hanover,
Lubec, and Hamburg, and extended his empire as far as Altona, on the
side of Denmark.  A few days' march would have carried him through
Holstein, over the two Belts, through Funen, and into the island of
Zealand.  What, then, was the conduct of England?  It was my lot to
fall into conversation with an intelligent Englishman on this subject.
"We knew (said he) that we were fighting for our existence.  It was
absolutely necessary that we should preserve the command of the seas.
If the fleet of Denmark fell into the enemy's hands, combined with his
other fleets, that command might be rendered doubtful.  Denmark had
only a nominal independence.  She was, in truth, subject to his sway.
We said to her, Give us your fleet; it will otherwise be taken
possession of by your secret and our open enemy.  We will preserve it
and restore it to you whenever the danger shall be over.  Denmark
refused.  Copenhagen was bombarded, and gallantly defended, but the
fleet was seized."  Everywhere the conduct of England was censured; and
the name even of the negotiator who was employed by her, who was
subsequently the minister near this government, was scarcely ever
pronounced here without coupling with it an epithet indicating his
participation in the disgraceful transaction.  And yet we are going to
sanction acts of violence, committed by ourselves, which but too much
resemble it!  What an important difference, too, between the relative
condition of England and of this country!  She, perhaps, was struggling
for her existence.  She was combating, single-handed, the most enormous
military power that the world has ever known.  With whom were we
contending?  With a few half-starved, half-clothed, wretched Indians
and fugitive slaves.  And while carrying on this inglorious war,
inglorious as regards the laurels or renown won in it, we violate
neutral rights, which the government had solemnly pledged itself to
respect, upon the principle of convenience, or upon the light
presumption that, by possibility, a post might be taken by this
miserable combination of Indians and slaves....

I will not trespass much longer upon the time of the committee; but I
trust I shall be indulged with some few reflections upon the danger of
permitting the conduct on which it has been my painful duty to
animadvert, to pass without the solemn expression of the disapprobation
of this House.  Recall to your recollection the free nations which have
gone before us.  Where are they now?

"Gone glimmering through the dream of  things that were, A schoolboy's
tale, the wonder of an hour."

And how have they lost their liberties?  If we could transport
ourselves back to the ages when Greece and Rome flourished in their
greatest prosperity, and, mingling in the throng, should ask a Grecian
if he did not fear that some daring military chieftain, covered with
glory, some Philip or Alexander, would one day overthrow the liberties
of his country, the confident and indignant Grecian would exclaim, No!
no! we have nothing to fear from our heroes; our liberties will be
eternal.  If a Roman citizen had been asked if he did not fear that the
conqueror of Gaul might establish a throne upon the ruins of public
liberty, he would have instantly repelled the unjust insinuation.  Yet
Greece fell; Caesar passed the Rubicon, and the patriotic arm even of
Brutus could not preserve the liberties of his devoted country!  The
celebrated Madame de Stael, in her last and perhaps her best work, has
said, that in the very year, almost the very month, when the president
of the Directory declared that monarchy would never more show its
frightful head in France, Bonaparte, with his grenadiers, entered the
palace of St. Cloud, and, dispersing with the bayonet the deputies of
the people deliberating on the affairs of the State, laid the
foundation of that vast fabric of despotism which overshadowed all
Europe.  I hope not to be misunderstood; I am far from intimating that
General Jackson cherishes any designs inimical to the liberties of the
country.  I believe his intentions to be pure and patriotic.  I thank
God that he would not, but I thank him still more that he could not if
he would, overturn the liberties of the Republic.  But precedents, if
bad, are fraught with the most dangerous consequences.  Man has been
described, by some of those who have treated of his nature, as a bundle
of habits.  The definition is much truer when applied to governments.
Precedents are their habits.  There is one important difference between
the formation of habits by an individual and by governments.  He
contracts only after frequent repetition.  A single instance fixes the
habit and determines the direction of governments.  Against the
alarming doctrine of unlimited discretion in our military commanders
when applied even to prisoners of war, I must enter my protest.  It
begins upon them; it will end on us.  I hope our happy form of
government is to be perpetual.  But, if it is to be preserved, it must
be by the practice of virtue, by justice, by moderation, by
magnanimity, by greatness of soul, by keeping a watchful and steady eye
on the Executive; and, above all, by holding to a strict accountability
the military branch of the public force.

We are fighting a great moral battle for the benefit not only of our
country, but of all mankind.  The eyes of the whole world are in fixed
attention upon us.  One, and the larger portion of it, is gazing with
contempt, with jealousy, and with envy; the other portion, with hope,
with confidence, and with affection.  Everywhere the black cloud of
legitimacy is suspended over the world, save only one bright spot,
which breaks out from the political hemisphere of the West, to
enlighten and animate and gladden the human heart.  Obscure that by the
downfall of liberty here, and all mankind are enshrouded in a pall of
universal darkness.   To you, Mr. Chairman, belongs the high privilege
of transmitting, unimpaired, to posterity the fair character and
liberty of our country.  Do you expect to execute this high trust by
trampling, or suffering to be trampled down, law, justice, the
Constitution, and the rights of the people?  by exhibiting examples of
inhumanity and cruelty and ambition?  When the minions of despotism
heard, in Europe, of the seizure of Pensacola, how did they chuckle,
and chide the admirers of our institutions, tauntingly pointing to the
demonstration of a spirit of injustice and aggrandizement made by our
country, in the midst of an amicable negotiation!  Behold, said they,
the conduct of those who are constantly reproaching kings!  You saw how
those admirers were astounded and hung their heads.  You saw, too, when
that illustrious man, who presides over us, adopted his pacific,
moderate, and just course, how they once more lifted up their heads
with exultation and delight beaming in their countenances.  And you saw
how those minions themselves were finally compelled to unite in the
general praises bestowed upon our government.  Beware how you forfeit
this exalted character.  Beware how you give a fatal sanction, in this
infant period of our Republic, scarcely yet twoscore years old, to
military insubordination.  Remember that Greece had her Alexander, Rome
her Caesar, England her Cromwell, France her Bonaparte, and that if we
would escape the rock on which they split we must avoid their errors.

How different has been the treatment of General Jackson and that
modest, but heroic young man, a native of one of the smallest States in
the Union, who achieved for his country, on Lake Erie, one of the most
glorious victories of the late war.  In a moment of passion he forgot
himself and offered an act of violence which was repented of as soon as
perpetrated.  He was tried, and suffered the judgment to be pronounced
by his peers.  Public justice was thought not even then to be
satisfied.  The press and Congress took up the subject.  My honorable
friend from Virginia, Mr. Johnson, the faithful and consistent sentinel
of the law and of the Constitution, disapproved in that instance, as he
does in this, and moved an inquiry.  The public mind remained agitated
and unappeased until the recent atonement, so honorably made by the
gallant commodore.  And is there to be a distinction between the
officers of the two branches of the public service?  Are former
services, however eminent, to preclude even inquiry into recent
misconduct?  Is there to be no limit, no prudential bounds to the
national gratitude?  I am not disposed to censure the President for not
ordering a court of inquiry, or a general court-martial.  Perhaps,
impelled by a sense of gratitude, he determined, by anticipation, to
extend to the general that pardon which he had the undoubted right to
grant after sentence.  Let us not shrink from our duty.  Let us assert
our constitutional powers, and vindicate the instrument from military

I hope gentlemen will deliberately survey the awful isthmus on which we
stand.  They may bear down all opposition; they may even vote the
general the public thanks; they may carry him triumphantly through this
House.  But, if they do, in my humble judgment, it will be a triumph of
the principle of insubordination, a triumph of the military over the
civil authority, a triumph over the powers of this House, a triumph
over the Constitution of the land.  And I pray most devoutly to Heaven
that it may not prove, in its ultimate effects and consequences, a
triumph over the liberties of the people.

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