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THE PRESIDENTIAL QUESTION.
A SPEECH MADE IN FANEUIL HALL, OCTOBER 24, 1856.
I AM glad to perceive, fellow-citizens, by the unmistakable signs of this occasion, that the Whigs of Boston and its vicinity are not yet tired of ratifying the nominations of that noble National Convention at Baltimore, held on the anniversary of the very day on which the Constitution of the United States was adopted and signed by its framers, and on which, too, by no casual coincidence, that never-to-be-forgotten Farewell Address was dated and promulgated by its immortal author. I am glad to perceive that the spirit which animated that Convention, and dictated those nominations, and which peculiarly belongs to that day, is still unextinguished in Faneuil Hall, and that, within this temple and on these altars, - wherever else it may have grown dim or gone out, -- the old Whig fire will be watched and fed and fanned and kept bright and burning to the last, with something of the fidelity and devotion which tended and guarded the vestal flame of antiquity. I rejoice that there is so goodly a number of those here to-night who are not yet ready to exchange its pure and genial radiance for any baleful blue lights of Northern sectionalism, or for any delusive will-of-the-wisp from the Dismal Swamp. This is the third and last time of asking, I believe ; — and we have as yet heard no just cause or impediment why the old Whig party — without any abandonment of its principles or its organization, and without any impressment or proscription of such as may prefer a different course — should not be united with a branch of the young American party in supporting for the Presidency as sound a Whig and as true an American as MILLARD FILLMORE.
And now, my friends, most willingly would I stop here. Most willingly would I have been excused from addressing you further on this occasion, or at all. Retired for the last four or five years from all political service and with not a wish to return to it; -taking a widely different view of public affairs, too, from so many of those with whom I have been associated in other years, and with whom I would gladly be associated again, and freely acknowledging that the complications and perplexities of the times afford ample room for all the doubts and disagreements which have driven so many honest minds on every side in so many different directions ; recognizing, moreover, as I distinctly do, a growing uncongeniality and almost incompatibility between my health, tastes, and habits of life, and the contentions and strifes of the political arena; in all these views, I had honestly hoped to be exempted from any thing more than that unequivocal definition of my position, which I have long ago given, and which nothing has occurred to modify. I could not altogether resist, however, the solicitations of friends to make a few opening remarks this evening, before the distinguished gentleman from New York shall commence his address; and I dare say that, before I take my seat, others will be as glad as myself in knowing, that it is positively my last appearance anywhere, on any party, stage, during the present campaign, - I should be willing to say for ever.
And, indeed, fellow-citizens, it is no such easy thing for one who thinks as I do, and feels as I do, in regard to the great contest in which we are engaged, to get up a speech which shall be altogether satisfactory either to others or to himself. I hope I am not too much given to the violation of the tenth commandment, either in any of its express or implied applications, but I will confess that I cannot help sometimes envying the orators of the Free Soil party the facility and obviousness of their appeals, and coveting the fertility and availableness of their topics. I have even been almost tempted to flatter myself that I could be an orator, also, if I could find it in my conscientious convictions of propriety or patriotism to employ the materials which they employ in the way in which they employ them,- to serve up the same sort of dishes with the same amount and quality of sauce.
We all know by heart the recipe for a regular Free Soil speech in these days. One-third part Missouri Compromise Repeal, without one grain of allowance for the indisputable fact that it was proposed and supported by Northern men, and could not have been carried without their aid ; one-third Kansas Outrages by Border Ruffians, without one scruple of doubt as to the wisdom of the Northern measures which, reasonably or unreasonably, have furnished so much of their pretext and provocation; and one-third disjointed facts, and misapplied figures, and great swelling words of vanity, to prove that the South is, upon the whole, the very poorest, meanest, least productive and most miserable part of creation, and therefore ought to be continually teased and taunted and reproached and reviled by everybody who feels himself to be better off. This, Mr. President, is the brief prescription for a mixture, which, seasoned to the taste, and administered foaming, is as certain to draw, and as sure to produce the desired inflammation, as a plaster of Burgundy pitch or Spanish flies is to raise a blister. Such a speech, in these days and in these parts, is applauded to the echo ; while one who deals only in counsels of conciliation and moderation, for whom the personalities of party warfare have long ago become loathsome, and whose only aim is to throw a calm, considerate, cooling word into the cauldron of witch-broth,- I might as well use Shakspeare's term outright, and say “ Hell-broth,” — which is seething and simmering on every stump and by every roadside, finds but little sympathy or encouragement, and might almost as well save his breath to cool his own pottage.
The truth is, my friends, and it is a sad truth, that we are all becoming gradually educated to the language of abuse, - educated to listen to it, to relish it, and to employ it. We come to these halls of deliberation and consultation with ears itching for strains of reproach and crimination. The old phrases of soberness and truth, the old forms of argument and appeal, have lost their power to attract or interest us. They are condemned as old-fogyish and out of fashion. We must have racy and rancorous personalities, inflated representations and turgid exaggerations of individual or sectional wrongs, stinging and venomous invectives upon some person, or some measure, or some institution, --in order to gratify our perverted tastes and prurient appetites. These are the deplorable results of a style of address, which, commencing not a great while ago, on a few anniversary platforms and in a few quasi pulpits, has gradually found its way into almost every public assembly, and has infected and poisoned the whole atmosphere of political discussion. I need not say, I trust, that I am not here to pander to such a lust for denunciation and defamation. I hope I shall never be found ministering to it. But at this moment, above all other moments in the history of our country, I turn from it with unspeakable disgust. Rather let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, and my right hand forget all the little cunning it ever possessed, than that I should utter a sentence or a syllable to fan or feed that flame of mutual jealousy and malignant hatred which is spreading like a prairie fire over the land.
And I am glad that, on this point at least, I have not been wholly misunderstood or misrepresented of late, even by those from whom I most widely differ. I remember seeing not long ago, in a newspaper which I rarely meet with, but of which a copy was sent to me anonymously, a commentary on some letter or speech which I had recently published, in which, after some other and more caustic criticisms, my humble production was pronounced to be about as good as a dose of chloroform. I thank the writer of that article, whoever he was. There is no compliment which could have been paid me, which I should have prized more highly. Chloroform, sir! Why, it is the very thing of all others which is most needed at this moment for the political peace and safety of our country. If a little of it could only have been administered before certain blows were struck, which we all deplore and condemn; if a little of it could have been administered before certain words were spoken, which some of us cannot applaud or approve; if a little of it could have been administered when rash and reckless men were first precipitating us into these perilous controversies by the breaking up of old compacts and by the earlier resistance to more recent laws; if a great deal of it could have been scattered broadcast over that unfortunate territory of Kansas, before a blow had been struck or a rifle loaded on either side; if chloroform could have been seasonably and successfully applied to such purposes as these, that mysterious anæsthetic agent would have established its character politically, as it has done already personally, as the most blessed anodyne which the pharmacy of the world has ever furnished. The preservation of the Union might thus have been associated with another Jackson beside him of Tennessee, and the peace and honor of our own Commonwealth with another Morton beside him of Taunton. It is now, indeed, too late for all this, and I fear we must say to Kansas at least, in the language, though by no means in the spirit, of Iago to the noble Moor of Venice:
“Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Yet even now, whatever is to be done for Kansas, is, in my judgment, to be sooner done and better done by appeals to reason than by resort to rifles, - by the restoration of harmony and concord throughout the country than by any continuance of angry agitation or any political triumph whatever. The election of Mr. Fremont, under present circumstances, would do nothing for that end, but would only serve to make “confusion worse confounded.” But, at any rate, it cannot be denied that there is still room for the application of chloroform elsewhere. If a little of it could even now be inhaled in Carolina and in Massachusetts,- if a few drops could be sprinkled over a certain Southern township, called “96," I think, or even over a few pulpits and Professorial chairs nearer home, I am sure that the condition of the whole country would be all the better for it; and for the latter part of the process, I know of nobody who would hold the sponge more hopefully than our worthy friend Dr. Luther V Bell.
But enough of this badinage. I do not forget that the wisdom of poor mortality has sometimes declared that there was no middle or moderate way of dealing safely or successfully with difficult questions. That was the advice, I believe, of the stern old Samnite to his victorious son at the memorable scene of the